BARONESS Margaret Ritchie has at the 11th hour urged the Westminster parliament to retain the £20.00 bonus to Universal Credit that was introduced as an added bonus to the furlough scheme during the Covid 19 pandemic that is due to come to an end this week.
Citing the fact that in her opinion the government has made no assessment of how people living in the most marginalised communities will be affected by the £20.00 universal credit uplift, the former leader of the SDLP has urged the government to “re-consider and to retain the £20 uplift as an essential lifeline to many families and individuals throughout our communities in N Ireland”.
“British Government Minister in the House of Lords, Baroness Stedman-Scott has confirmed to me in a written Parliamentary Answer that the UK Government made no assessment of what society; our local communities; people living in marginalised communities would be affected by the removal of the £20 Universal Credit uplift.
“To me this is a sign of a heartless government that does not countenance the level of poverty and marginalisation in our communities which has been made more acute due to the impact of the pandemic and with many people reliant on benefits and foodbanks and some now out of work and having to resort to benefits to maintain and sustain themselves and their families.
“This refusal to continue the £20 uplift is happening at a time when people are finding great difficulty in making ends meet and are subject to other financial cuts and pressures.
“At this 11th hour, I would urge the government to re-consider and to retain the £20 uplift as an essential lifeline to many families and individuals throughout our communities in N Ireland”.
Defiant Newry, Mourne and Down councillors have demanded that Westminster abandon plans to end the Universal Credit uplift.
SDLP group leader on the council Pete Byrne, who brought the motion forward, warned current proposals would be “devastating” for people in the council area and would “push more people into poverty, increase reliance on food banks, and increase homelessness.”
The boost, which was put in place in response to the coronavirus crisis, is set to end this week leaving many facing a £1,000 annual benefit cut.
The motion from Cllr Byrne- which was unanimously backed – said: “The Council calls on the Communities Minister, in the absence of any action from the Westminster government, to liaise with her colleague, the Finance Minister, to uphold this uplift for the remainder of the financial year and commit to expediting a long-term strategy to tackle the shameful levels of poverty and social deprivation across Newry, Mourne and Down.”
Sinn Fein Cllr Aoife Finnegan lodged an amendment calling for the NI Executive, the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly to “continue to press the British government to retain this uplift.”
She added: “This uplift may not be much to people in Westminster who make decisions but it can be the difference between eating and paying for heating for some people.
“In Slieve Gullion where poverty levels are among the highest in [Northern Ireland], this will impact not just individual families but also on the local economy which is struggling to get back on its feet.”
DUP councillor Glyn Hanna said he was concerned that more people would have to turn to food banks if the “absolutely essential” uplift wasn’t retained.
He said: “It’s a cruel cut and it will be the low paid, single-parent families and vulnerable who will suffer as a result and that’s why I’m happy to support the motion.”
Meanwhile, Alliance’s Andrew McMurray said the cut would plunge 1,100 children into poverty overnight.
“It should be unacceptable that any child grows up in poverty,” Cllr Murray said.
“This cut is wrong and will lead to hardship for households and will impact key workers and single parents. It will also have a knock-on effect on businesses as families reduce spending to manage the cut.”
Ulster Unionist group leader David Taylor said it was “regrettable” that the government had made their decision.
He said: “We have seen over the last couple of months the increase in the cost of food, fuel and energy and there is a fear that is only going to continue in the months ahead.
“This decision will result in many households making unacceptable choices between heating and eating.
“People need support now and not at the end of a review and as a consequence of that I hope the Communities Minister can look at this with urgency.”