UK Budget 2021: Rishi Sunak pressured to restore universal credit uplift with calls for Christmas bonus hike

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The Chancellor Rishi Sunak is being pressured to reinstate the £20 universal credit uplift at next week’s budget, with opposition parties calling its withdrawal “shameful and needless”.

There are also calls for the £10 Christmas Bonus, given to some benefits claimants at the beginning of December, to increase in line with inflation to reduce hardship. The value of the tax-free gesture has been unchanged since it was first rolled out in 1972.

Rishi Sunak removed the universal credit uplift, introduced to help struggling families in the pandemic, earlier this month despite criticism from all parties.

Coinciding with rising energy bills and living costs, it is believed 1.5 million working people have been pushed into hardship by the loss of the uplift.

“The recent £1,000-a-year cut to the universal credit uplift will push people further into debt, rent arrears and worse,” warned Debbie Abrahams, who is the Labour MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth and a member of the all-party parliamentary group on universal credit.

“This is on top of increasing cost pressures of approximately £1,000 a year due to the increase in energy bills, rising food prices and a national insurance contributions hike due to start in April.”

“At a bare minimum, the budget next week must reinstate £20 per week for universal credit or provide equivalent social security support.”

UK Budget 2021: Rishi Sunak pressured to restore universal credit uplift with calls for Christmas bonus hike
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However, Ms Abrahams was critical of “tinkering around the edges” of welfare by amending or extending the Christmas Bonus, which is currently unavailable to universal credit claimants.

She said it “will not address the scale of the current cost of living crisis on tens of thousands of people, including people in work”.

Following “the shameful and needless withdrawal of the universal credit uplift”, the Liberal Democrats said: “With the cost of living going through the roof this Christmas, the Government has to do everything they can to make sure hard-hit families are protected. 

“Doubling the Christmas bonus… would be a welcome gesture to show how seriously they take the issue.”

Wendy Chamberlain, the MP for North East Fife and party spokesperson for work and pensions, added: “Ultimately only a return of the uplift, along with measures put in place to make sure gas and energy price hikes do not unfairly fall onto working people, will be enough to minimise hardship this winter.”

Anti-poverty charity Turn2us said the value of the Christmas Bonus had diminished in the past 50 years and now “doesn’t even buy families a modest Christmas dinner”.

Sara Willcocks, the charity’s head of external affairs, said: “The Government needs to look urgently at whether families have enough money to live on and meet all of their needs.

“We also urge them to increase this benefit, at least in line with inflation, to help struggling families put food on the table this Christmas. 

“Especially now so many people are facing a difficult winter due to rising energy prices and the £20 cut to universal credit.”

The Department for Work and Pensions said: “We know the best route towards financial independence is through well-paid work, which is why our multi-billion pound Plan for Jobs is helping boost skills and opportunity, while Universal Credit continues to provide a vital safety net for millions.

“The Household Support Fund is helping the most vulnerable with essential costs through this winter, and is distributed by councils, who are best placed to ensure those in need in their local areas can be identified and supported as soon as possible.”

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