SIX former Conservative work and pension secretaries have spoken with “one voice” to urge the Chancellor to make permanent the pandemic-inspired £20-a-week uplift to Universal Credit.

Former Tory leader and instigator of Universal Credit (UC) Sir Iain Duncan Smith, along with five of his successors – Stephen Crabb, Damian Green, David Gauke, Esther McVey and Amber Rudd – have penned a letter in a bid to persuade Rishi Sunak to stick with the £5 billion benefits investment even after coronavirus restrictions have been eased.

The extra cash for benefit claimants was brought in as an emergency spending measure during the Covid crisis but is due to expire on October 1, having already been extended for six months at the March Budget.

But Sir Iain warned that a failure to keep the uplift in place permanently would “damage living standards, health and opportunities” for those that “need our support most as we emerge from the pandemic”.

Research from think-tank the Legatum Institute calculates that the weekly top-up has spared hundreds of thousands of people from destitution.

Although the number of people claiming benefits has risen from three to six million during Covid-19, the group estimates Universal Credit has saved a further 650,000 people from falling into poverty over this timeframe.

The Children’s Commissioner for Scotland has previously warned Tory plans to implement this would be “catastrophic” for families.

READ MORE: SNP call on Tories to 'meet rhetoric with action' over Universal Credit uplift

In a joint letter to Sunak, the six former cabinet ministers said: “The UC uplift has rightly been allocated into the standard allowance of UC as many have not been able to work and it has been right to protect people whilst they cannot work.

“But as the economy reopens, and the Government re-evaluates where it has been spending money, we ask that the current funding for individuals in the Universal Credit envelope be kept at the current level.”

Ministers told MPs in the Commons last week that there will be less need for the £20 weekly rise in Universal Credit payments once coronavirus restrictions have been scrapped, with the Government looking set to abolish social distancing restrictions by July 19.

But in a statement, Sir Iain said making it a permanent feature “should be at the heart of what makes us Conservatives”.

“One of the greatest, but unremarked, successes of the Government’s response to Covid has been the benefit system,” said the Tory grandee.

“Universal Credit has held up well as a system for distributing money to those who need it, and the extra £20 added to has been essential in allowing people to live with dignity.

“Today all six former Conservative secretaries of state for work and pensions have written with one voice to urge the Chancellor to protect the extra money he has invested in Universal Credit.

“As such, this investment should be at the heart of what makes us Conservatives: delivering the policies needed to provide businesses and people across the UK with opportunities to prosper, whilst simultaneously providing support to those at risk of being left behind.

“A failure to act would mean not grasping this opportunity to invest in a future with more work and less poverty and would damage living standards, health and opportunities for some of the families that need our support most as we emerge from the pandemic.”

SNP Work and Pensions spokesperson David Linden MP said: “Tory plans to cut Universal Credit payments by £1040 would be devastating for millions of families, many of whom are already struggling to get by.

"There must be an urgent U-turn on these damaging plans, which would push families further into poverty and crisis at the worst possible time.

“Household incomes have already been hammered by a decade of Tory austerity cuts, with in-work poverty rising to record levels on Boris Johnson’s watch.

He went on: “While the SNP government is putting money in people’s pockets, with progressive policies like the Scottish Child Payment, the Tories are taking it away again with regressive cuts that threaten to wipe away the progress we are making in tackling poverty.

“Scotland is increasingly vulnerable under Westminster control. Ultimately, the only way to keep Scotland safe from the long-term damage of Tory cuts is to become an independent country, with the full powers needed to build a strong, fair and equal recovery and eradicate poverty."

It comes as the SNP's Ian Blackford MP said there is a “very real danger” the proposed Tory cuts to Universal Credit, furlough and business support by the autumn could push millions of people into poverty and cause unemployment to rise across the UK.

READ MORE: Call for Westminster to publish impact of planned cuts to Covid support

Last week, Welfare Delivery Minister Will Quince admitted that “no assessment has been made” of how the cut in Universal Credit – which adds up to £1040 a year for families – will affect child poverty in Scotland.

Blackford said: “The UK Government must publish an urgent impact assessment of the effect that planned Tory cuts will have on household incomes and levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality.

“There is a very real danger that, by withdrawing financial support this autumn, the Tory government will slash family incomes, cause rising unemployment, and send levels of poverty soaring.

“Millions of families are already living on the breadline and struggling to get by. The £1040 cut to Universal Credit must be reversed altogether with a complete U-turn – otherwise we will inevitably see a Tory poverty crisis this winter.

“The UK Government must also rethink its plans to end furlough and business support in September. Cutting off support prematurely will almost certainly cause an unnecessary spike in unemployment and leave businesses in the lurch in the event of a winter wave of Covid.”