Since March 2020, Universal Credit claimants have been receiving an extra £20 a week to help them mitigate the financial impact of Covid-19.
Despite calls to make the uplift permanent, Chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed recently that it would be scrapped this autumn as it had always been intended as a temporary measure.
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Data from the Department of Work and Pensions shows that in May, there were 13,720 Universal Credit claimants in Crawley – 5,938 (43%) of whom were in employment.
That figure has more than doubled since February 2020 – shortly before the coronavirus pandemic hit – when there were 5,106 people in the area claiming the benefit.
Six former Conservative work and pensions secretaries wrote to the Government to urge ministers to rethink the contentious cut, which is likely to impact nearly six million people in the UK.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, one of the signatories, said failure to retain the uplift could damage living standards, health and opportunities for struggling families.
And charities say permanently boosting the benefit, worth up to around £1,000 a year, would help to provide financial security and prevent households being plunged into poverty.
Anti-poverty charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation described the impending end of the uplift as a "terrible mistake" that would push half a million people below the breadline.
Iain 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.
"It’s not too late for ministers to do the right thing by keeping the £20 increase to Universal Credit and extending it to legacy benefits.
"This would enable low-income families in and out of work to live with dignity rather than intensifying their hardship.”
Paul Spencer, from mental health charity Mind, said the cuts, coupled with the "mental health consequences of the pandemic", could have a significant and long-term impact, adding: "The benefits system should protect us when our mental or physical health prevents us from earning enough to live on.
"Too many people are already struggling to stay afloat with the current rate, so it’s appalling that the UK Government is planning to cut it at this time.
"We must keep the lifeline."
The introduction of Universal Credit in 2012 followed a radical overhaul of the UK's welfare system that saw six benefits axed in favour of a single payment model designed to help those looking for work or on a low income.
A Government spokesperson said: “Universal Credit has provided a vital safety net for six million people during the pandemic, and we announced the temporary uplift as part of a £400 billion package of measures put in place that will last well beyond the end of the roadmap.
“Our focus now is on our multi-billion pound Plan for Jobs, which will support people in the long-term by helping them learn new skills and increase their hours or find new work.”