After receiving correspondence from constituents asking me about my view on the temporary £20 Universal Credit uplift, and given the complex nature of this issue, I wanted to set out my view in detail.
Over the last few weeks, I have received correspondence from constituents outlining their view on whether the £20 Universal Credit uplift should remain in place, which is why I wanted to clarify my position on this matter now that I have received the most recent local figures.
In March 2020, the £20 Universal Credit uplift was announced alongside a series of other temporary measures to support people facing financial difficulty as a result of the pandemic, such as mortgage holidays, protections for renters, and negotiating relief for energy bills.
As you will be aware, the temporary Universal Credit uplift is due to expire at the end of this month, and whilst recent national reports have shown that employment levels are rising as we return to normality, figures provided to me by Leigh’s Job Centre demonstrate that the situation we face locally is much more complex.
Local people claim Universal Credit for a variety of different reasons, and they can be broadly categorised into three different groups.
The largest group within the Leigh constituency in receipt of Universal Credit is comprised of 3,912 people. Sadly, these claimants tend to be those with long standing illnesses, disabilities and other problems that prevent them from seeking work. It is important to note that the number of claimants in this group were largely already in receipt of Universal Credit or one of the legacy benefits before the current crisis began, and as you will know, this is a long-standing issue in our community, the difficulties of which will not be resolved easily, or quickly.
The second largest group is comprised of 3,802 claimants that are in work, but have had their hours cut or reduced during the pandemic, making them eligible only for partial receipt of Universal Credit due to reduced levels of pay.
Finally, the third largest group in receipt of Universal Credit is comprised of 3,629 claimants actively seeking work. This group is comprised of both those who are currently unemployed and those who are self-employed who signed onto Universal Credit temporarily during the crisis due to being unable to work.
I am pleased to say that whilst the number of people across the second and third highest claimant groups mentioned above has been reducing over the last few months, indicating that the local economy is gradually recovering, I do remain concerned about the overall number of both partial and full claimants still in receipt of Universal Credit locally.
Therefore, in light of this local picture, it is my view that there is a case to be made for the further temporary extension of the Universal Credit uplift. However, unlike calls made by the opposition, I do not believe this should be a permanent measure but rather, consideration should be given to allowing this temporary measure to remain in place until we see a reduction in the overall number of claimants in receipt of Universal Credit. Alternatively, targeted measures should be put in place to assist those areas with a claimant count that has not yet fully recovered to near pre-pandemic levels.
I also want to reassure you that I have made this view clear to Ministers and colleagues who are currently considering this important matter, and will continue to monitor this situation closely in the coming weeks and months ahead.