'Massive impact' as 58,000 people to lose £20 a week in benefits
- Credit: PA
More than 58,000 people in Suffolk are to lose £20 a week in benefits - with campaigners warning of a "massive impact" on families living on the breadline.
The government brought in a £20 a week uplift to Universal Credit during the coronavirus crisis, to help those struggling to cope during the pandemic survive.
With benefit claims steadily rising since 2020 as families found their income dry up through furlough or redundancy, the extra money has become a lifeline to those struggling to make ends meet.
But the uplift is due to end on October 6, meaning thousands of families will lose £1,040 of annual income.
As of June this year, a total of 58,069 Suffolk people were claiming Universal Credit - 19,553 in East Suffolk, 15,237 in Ipswich, 12,073 in West Suffolk, 5,819 in Babergh and 5,387 in Mid Suffolk.
Sally Harrison, deputy manager of Ipswich Citizens Advice, said all of those would now face greater hardship as a result.
Even though most claimants are unemployed, nearly 25,000 people in work are claiming Universal Credit and will be affected by the change.
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"We think it's going to have a massive impact on people," she said.
"Everyone lives to their needs and a lot of people are going through a lot of poverty and deprivation, because of Covid.
"Companies have gone bust and people are out of work who have never been out of work before.
"People are claiming benefits when they have never had to before.
"People who have been in good jobs with mortgages have suddenly got no income. That has a huge effect on people.
"£20 a week is a lot of money. You can buy a lot of food with that.
"It can be the difference between heating and eating, especially coming up to winter."
In Essex, 14,060 people are set to lose the Universal Credit uplift in Colchester, as well as 14,113 in Tendring.
Prime minister Boris Johnson appears to have rebuffed calls to delay removing the uplift.
“My strong preference is for people to see their wages rise through their efforts rather than through taxation of other people put into their pay packets,” he said.
But Mrs Harrison believes it is "completely the wrong time" to make the change, with fuel bills and other expenses set to rise during winter - at the very time benefits will decrease.
The end of the uplift could also have a disproportionate effect on younger people, she warned.
Citizens Advice has found itself helping many more younger people during the pandemic, with Mrs Harrison saying the "jobs they were in are no longer there".
She has argued that a "delay would be ideal - especially to try to get over the winter period".
Waveney MP Peter Aldous is one of those calling for the £20 a week uplift to be made permanent.
He joined forces with fellow Conservative parliamentarian John Stevenson to write a letter to Mr Johnson urging him to change course.
They argued that making the uplift permanent would provide people with “stability and security”.
They added: “This could be one of our best legacies from the pandemic and can provide the cornerstone of a social security system of which, as Conservatives, we can be proud."
A government spokesman said: “The temporary uplift to Universal Credit was designed to help claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic, and it has done so.
“Universal Credit will continue to provide a vital safety net and, with record vacancies available, alongside the successful vaccination rollout, it’s right that we now focus on our Plan for Jobs, helping claimants to increase their earnings by boosting their skills and getting into work, progressing in work or increasing their hours.”