Universal Credit uplift: A lifeline in a pandemic

In this blog we hear from Holly Beattie, the Trust's Media and Communications Officer, on the impact removing the £20 uplift on Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit would have on people already experiencing high levels of disadvantage.

For many people experiencing disadvantage, the £20 uplift to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit, introduced in response to COVID-19, has been a lifeline. The uplift is due to be dropped on 31 March 2021, leaving around 5.5 million families worse off by £1,000 a year.

Inequalities have been exacerbated during COVID-19, with protected groups facing some of the biggest challenges. People’s Health Trust are in favour of retaining the £20 uplift as a necessary step in ensuring that the long term health impacts of these inequalities are mitigated against.

The social determinants of health are the socioeconomic circumstances that affect our life expectancy and the quality of our health. Access to secure, well-paid jobs and sufficient income is one of the social determinants that we know is important for ensuring good health outcomes. The welfare system is a vital aspect of this.

The total number of Universal Credit applicants has risen from 3 million in March to 5.8 million as of November. We know that during COVID-19 millions of people have lost jobs and income, yet for low-income households living costs have risen.

We asked our Local Conversation funded partners who are working in communities experiencing disadvantage across Great Britain what impact the £20 uplift to Universal Credit has had on them and the responses highlight how much of a lifeline it has been. The key examples raised by our partners are:

  1. Being able to top up gas and electric cards enabling families to heat their homes during the day. Without the uplift payment, heating is not an option during the day and fuel has to be saved until the early evening time.
  2. The uplift means being able to keep the lights on after dark.

One Local Conversation partner said “clearly the uplift is a lifeline!” in response to the concerns raised by residents.

Last week, leading health organisations wrote to the Prime Minister calling for the uplift to be kept, saying:

“As organisations working across health and care, we see the irrefutable evidence that poverty has significant negative impacts on individuals, their families and society more widely. This uplift in Universal Credit has been a lifeline for many people in supporting them through the pandemic, it is crucial that this is maintained as the country seeks to recover from its impacts.”

The APPG on Poverty also published a report recommending the uplift should be kept after hearing evidence about its impact.

There is a wealth of evidence which points to the need for the uplift to be retained to protect the health of those already experiencing high levels of disadvantage. We’re calling on the Government to listen to the experiences of those most affected and keep the uplift.