As restrictions continue, so too must the lifeline

As restrictions continue, so too must the lifeline

11th January 2021

2021, the start of a New Year that felt very much like the previous year.

The pandemic continued and so the uncertainty continued. Uncertainty about what 2021 will look like, about when we will next be with our loved ones and about when life will get back to ‘normal’.

While we all continue to feel the burdensome impact of COVID-19, we are not all impacted in the same way. Some are feeling it more than others, for example the millions of people who continue to face financial insecurity as a result of the crisis.

Among those people, 5.7 million are on Universal Credit, with 3.6 million starts (the number of new claimants) to Universal Credit since March 2020, the month where COVID-19 restrictions were first implemented (Department for Work and Pensions, October 2020).

While facing the same uncertainties we all are, those millions of people are facing the colossal added uncertainty of not knowing what income they will have from April.

At the start of the pandemic, the Government rightfully introduced the temporary £20 uplift in Universal Credit, which proved to be a lifeline for so many people. This temporary uplift is scheduled to end in April 2021, when the millions of people who rely on Universal Credit will suddenly find themselves having to survive on a lower income during a time of persistent challenge and enduring upheaval.

The campaign for the Government to commit to keeping that uplift urgently, led by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) and backed by TLG along with many other charities, MPs and other bodies, has been gathering pace for some time. But since Monday’s announcement it became ever more important.

The Government must commit to keeping the uplift, as well as extending it to include Legacy Benefits, and they must announce it now.

With new national lockdown restrictions announced last week, along with school closures, it is now even more critical that these families keep that added support and that they are told so now, rather than facing weeks of uncertainty. Similarly, those on Legacy Benefits have so far missed out on this uplift when they need it every bit as much as those who have received it, so it is urgent the Government immediately includes them in this uplift.

The level of claims for Universal Credit peaked in the first two weeks of the Spring 2020 lockdown, with 10 times the usual number of weekly claims being made which amounted to 1.1 million people (Department for Work and Pensions, 2020). While we are unlikely to see a repeat of these numbers, during the initial stages of the latest lockdown there will no doubt be more people for whom the coming days will bring unemployment, loss of income and anxiety over how they will put food on the table

The above numbers are almost too big to fully comprehend the amount of people who will be affected if the uplift is taken away. Many of whom have already found their finances devastated at the beginning of 2020, as the crisis took away their employment and left them reeling.

We know first-hand that it is critical the £20 uplift, a lifeline to so many of these families, is not taken away at this evermore uncertain time. TLG has continued to support children and families throughout the COVID-19 crisis, offering a variety of support services. TLG staff and volunteers have therefore continued to see the continued financial insecurity so many families are facing.

Families who have faced sudden loss of employment, decreasing working hours or been forced to work less in order to care for their children during the restrictions. While there has been welcome provision for many families in the form of Free School Meal vouchers and holiday provision, the financial impact goes much further and is far more complex than this.

Recently, child food poverty has rightfully been receiving attention and TLG has continued to support families facing food insecurity through our Box of Hope project. Families suddenly plunged into unemployment and forced to rely on Universal Credit will be among those been affected by this issue. Families struggling on a low income throughout this pandemic have been hit by increased food and utility costs due to children being home most of the time, not to mention the added digital costs of ensuring their child(ren) can continue their education online. For these families, that extra £20 can be used to ensure there is enough food on the table for their children, or to fund broadband for their child's education, or to cover the additional heating costs of keeping the house warm all day.

We know that we face severe economic challenges ahead, that the Government has already done so much to support people throughout this crisis and that one day the cost of spending on COVID-19 will need to be recovered. However, in his recent Autumn statement the Chancellor himself stated that unemployment will continue to rise until it peaks at 2.6 million people next year, throwing millions more families into financial insecurity. At such a time as this, it is not right to withdraw critical support for those very people. While cost-cutting measures will need to be taken, that is not the place to start. 

Beth Prescott

Beth Prescott

Before coming to TLG, Beth worked as a Fundraising Project Manager for poverty-relief charity Christians Against Poverty. Beth also has expansive experience in the political sector. Beth is a season ticket holder at Huddersfield Town and enjoys hiking through the Yorkshire countryside followed by a local ale in the pub.

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