LEADERS of the three devolved nations have issued a united call for the Westminster government to drop the “morally indefensible” cut to Universal Credit payments.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, together with Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, Northern Ireland First Minister and deputy First Minister Paul Givan and Michelle O’Neill, have made the rare joint intervention over concerns at the “lifeline” being cut when the country is facing a cost of living crisis.

In a letter to Boris Johnson, they said: “It is not too late for you to reverse the decision to take money out of the pockets of the poorest in society.”

The temporary uplift in Universal Credit, announced last year at the start of the pandemic, began winding down towards the end of September and will finally come to an end this week.

A charity has also warned today Johnson is “abandoning millions” to hardship by pushing ahead with the cut.

The National:

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said in 35 parts of Britain, at least half of working-age families with children will be hit by the removal of the £20-a-week uplift. But in an interview published yesterday, the Prime Minister said he was adamant he would not reverse the decision to cut it. He defended it by saying it was part of a “particular bunch of things we did to help people through Covid”, adding: “I want to see people paid more.”

Sturgeon said she did not think there had ever been anything “quite so morally indefensible” in UK policy in recent times.

She said: “At a time when we are facing the impact of the pandemic, Brexit and soaring costs, removing £20 per week from the lowest-income households simply cannot be defended in any way, shape or form.

“The planned cut represents the biggest overnight reduction to the basic rate of social security in more than 70 years and would sever a crucial lifeline for countless households across the UK at a time when budgets are already facing an unprecedented squeeze.

“It is an immoral, ill-thought-out and ultimately counterproductive policy which simply must be stopped.  

“Those on low incomes are going to find it difficult to feed their children, heat their homes, and pay their rent if the cut goes ahead. We have therefore united as the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to say to the Prime Minister: ‘Do not do this’.”

The letter states: “Your Government is withdrawing this lifeline just as the country is facing a significant cost-of-living crisis.

“This winter millions of people are facing an untenable combination of increases to the cost of food and energy, rising inflation, the end of the furlough scheme, and an imminent hike to National Insurance contributions.

“There is no rationale for cutting such crucial support at a point when people across the UK are facing an unprecedented squeeze on their household budgets.”

The letter said a £500 million hardship fund announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak to provide discretionary payments to the most vulnerable was a “wholly inadequate” replacement for the £6 billion provided through the uplift.

“It is not too late for you to reverse the decision to take money out of the pockets of the poorest in society at a time when they are facing a serious cost of living crisis,” it added.

A UK Government spokesman said: “We’ve always been clear that the uplift to Universal Credit and the furlough scheme were temporary.

“They were designed to help claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic, and they have done so.”