More than 30,000 people in Falkirk and West Lothian could lose "lifeline" Universal Credit boost

Around 30,000 people in the West Lothian and Falkirk areas could lose "lifeline" funding as the Government prepares to axe a pandemic-inspired benefits boost.

Wednesday, 21st July 2021, 6:00 am
File photo PA Images.

Since March 2020, Universal Credit claimants have been receiving an extra £20 a week to help them mitigate the financial impact of Covid-19. Despite calls to make the uplift permanent, Chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed recently that it would be scrapped this autumn as it had always been intended as a temporary measure.

Data from the Department of Work and Pensions shows that in May, there were 16,000 Universal Credit claimants in West Lothian – 6,110 (38 per cent) of whom were in employment. That figure has nearly doubled since February 2020 – shortly before the coronavirus pandemic hit – when there were 8,419 people in the area claiming the benefit.

In the Falkirk council area there were 14,256 Universal Credit claimants in Falkirk – 5,144 (36 per cent) of whom were in employment. That is up by 79 per cent since February 2020, when there were 7,976 people in the area claiming the benefit.

Six former Conservative work and pensions secretaries wrote to the Government to urge ministers to rethink the contentious cut, which is likely to impact nearly six million people in the UK.

Anti-poverty charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation described the impending end of the uplift as a "terrible mistake" that would push half a million people below the breadline.

Paul Spencer, from mental health charity Mind, said the cuts, coupled with the "mental health consequences of the pandemic", could have a significant and long-term impact, adding: "The benefits system should protect us when our mental or physical health prevents us from earning enough to live on. We must keep the lifeline."

A Government spokesperson said: “Universal Credit has provided a vital safety net for six million people during the pandemic, and we announced the temporary uplift as part of a £400 billion package of measures put in place that will last well beyond the end of the roadmap.

“Our focus now is on our multi-billion pound Plan for Jobs, which will support people in the long-term by helping them learn new skills and increase their hours or find new work.”​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

The introduction of Universal Credit in 2012 followed a radical overhaul of the UK's welfare system that saw six benefits axed in favour of a single payment model designed to help those looking for work or on a low income.