Thousands of Mansfield people set to lose 'lifeline' benefits top-up
More than 10,000 people in Mansfield could lose ‘lifeline’ funding as the government prepares to axe a benefits boost designed to help them through the pandemic.
Since March 2020, Universal Credit claimants have been receiving an extra £20 a week to mitigate the financial impact of Covid-19.
But despite calls to make the top-up permanent, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has confirmed it will be scrapped this autumn, saying it was only intended to be a temporary measure.
Data from the Department of Work and Pensions shows that, in May this year, there were 10,762 people in Mansfield claiming Universal Credit. Of these, 4,454, or 41 per cent, were in employment.
That figure has nearly doubled since February last year, shortly before the coronavirus pandemic hit, when there were 5,415 people claiming the benefit.
Charities have slammed the Chancellor’s decision. They say permanently boosting the benefit, which is worth up to about £1,000 a year, would help provide financial security and prevent households plunging into poverty.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), an anti-poverty charity, described the impending axe as “a terrible mistake” that would push half a million people below the breadline.
Ian Porter, of the JRF, said: “Social security should be a strong lifeline to protect families from harm and open up options when they hit hard times.
"Keeping the £20 increase in Universal Credit would enable low-income families in and out of work to live with dignity, rather than intensifying their hardship.”
Six former Conservative ministers have urged the government to rethink the contentious cut. They include former party leader, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who says failure to retain the uplift could damage living standards, health and opportunities for struggling families.
It would also put mental health at risk, according to the charity Mind, which has a base in Mansfield.
Paul Spencer, of Mind, said: “The benefits system should protect us when our mental or physical health prevents us from earning enough to live on.”
Universal Credit was introduced in 2012 after a radical overhaul of the UK’s welfare system, bringing six benefits under the umbrella of one payment.
The government says the top-up has provided “a vital safety net” for six million people during the pandemic. But the focus was now on helping them find fresh jobs, learn new skills or increase their hours.