ANTI-POVERTY campaigners have welcomed calls from the UK’s devolved assemblies to scrap the £20 increase in Universal Credit and make the higher payment permanent.

A joint letter to Work and Pensions Secretary, Therese Coffey, from Shona Robison, Holyrood’s Social Justice Secretary, Welsh Social Justice Minister Jane Hutt, and Northern Ireland’s Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey, said the UK Government’s plans will cost people more than £1000 a year “at time when they need financial support the most”.

They branded the change, which is due to come into effect next month, as the “biggest overnight reduction to a basic rate of social security since the modern welfare state began, more than 70 years ago”.

The Scottish Government has already voiced concerns that ending the £20 uplift, brought in at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, could reduce social security payments north of the Border by more than £460 million per year by 2023-24.

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Claimants in Northern Ireland would lose £55.5m in this financial year alone, Coffey was told, while 280,940 people on Universal Credit in Wales will be worse off.

They told Coffey they were expressing the “grave concerns of all three devolved administrations”.

The UK Government previously said it was focused on the “multibillion-pound Plan For Jobs” which ministers believe will “help people learn new skills to progress in their career, increase their hours or find new work”.

However, the three devolved administrations said: “Failing to maintain the recent uplift to Universal Credit will increase hardship and poverty for people who are already struggling.

“To support the social and economic recovery, particularly as we ease out of the public health emergency, we urge you to reverse this decision and to strengthen the support offered by Universal Credit, instead of weakening it.”

Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, told The National that over the past year we had seen the importance of having a secure safety net when times are hard.

He said: “That’s why the UK Government’s introduction of the £20 a week increase to Universal Credit at the start of the pandemic was so welcome.

“There were significant gaps in their approach, with people on ‘legacy benefits’ and many self-employed people missing out on the increased support, but the effect on those who did receive it was important.

“A boost of over £1000 a year in the midst of the crisis was not only welcome, but necessary.

“That is why the decision to cut Universal Credit is so disappointing.

“Those who need this support in August are not going to need it any less in October. And the UK Government’s assertion that it is promoting jobs over social security is just plain wrong.

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“Universal Credit is available to people in work, and around a third of people receiving it in Scotland are in work.

“A decent social security system should be available for everyone, whenever they need it. With an estimated 60,000 more people in Scotland expected to be swept into poverty as a result of this cut it is clear that the UK Government needs to think again.”

A UK Government spokeswoman 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.”