IT started in response to the pandemic and saw millions of Universal Credit (UC) claimants given a £20 uplift, but now Boris Johnson’s plans to take that meagre sum back from the country’s poorest people this week have been slated – not only by his opponents, but by Tories too.

In Scotland, there are more than 2.8 million people receiving some form of benefit, and in January there were six million people across the UK claiming UC – a 98% rise since March 2020 in the lowest-paid members of our society.

Ending the uplift will take £6 billion out of their pockets, leaving some unable to feed their families or heat their homes.

Universal Credit claimants categorised by work status. Statistics: DWP

This will not be offset by Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s anticipated announcement at the Tory conference on Monday of a £500 million investment to help people back into work or by Johnson’s £500m “hardship fund”.

Leaders of the three devolved nations have joined calls to scrap the planned UC cut amid fears of a “cost of living crisis”.

In a joint letter to Johnson, Nicola Sturgeon, her Welsh counterpart Mark Drakeford, and the first and deputy FMs of Northern Ireland, Paul Givan and Michelle O'Neill, said there was still time for a change of heart.

They wrote as Tories gathered in Blackpool for their annual party conference: “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 end of the uplift has come about despite protests from politicians, charities and anti-poverty campaigners.

Former prime minister Gordon Brown has published new research suggesting more than six million people are facing fuel poverty this winter – and he’s issued a fresh appeal for the government to scrap the UC cut.

600 Universal Credit claimants are asked what the single biggest impact of cut will be on them. Figures: Citizens Advice Scotland

Brown said new research by Professor Jonathan Bradshaw and Dr Antonia Keung at the University of York showed 3.4 million households – covering 6.3 million adults and children – will be unable to pay escalating gas and electricity bills this winter without cutting back on food.

It also indicated that 840,000 people have been thrust into fuel poverty this week following the gas and electricity price increases that came in at the beginning of this month.

Brown has sent the research to ministers, describing the findings as “shocking”.

He said: “It is not too late for the Government to spare millions of people the choice between heating and eating this winter.”

One of Johnson’s own MPs – Nigel Mills, a member of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee – warned the Tories risked looking “cruel and harsh” as the cut kicks in next week.

Mills told a Tory conference fringe event: “I think the government are being a little bit foolish I think politically and they’re being unfair on people by taking that away.

“I think they’ve picked the wrong issue to start with. No doubt we will see in a few weeks with the rising cost of living how bad a decision that is.”

Our interactive map will show you the numbers of people affected by the cut, and what they think of it.