Torbay hit by Universal Credit uplift

Council leader writes to MP.

local democracy reporter, Joe Ives

More than 13,500 people in Torbay are set to be hit by the end of the £20 Universal Credit uplift this week, with the leader of the council warning “there could never be a worse time” to make the move.

As covid hit in March 2020, the government launched a one-year temporary £20 increase in Universal Credit payments, and further extended the rise for another six months this March. Now that extension is set to expire, the uplift is due to end on Wednesday 6 October.

According to the Department of Work and Pensions, over 13,500 people were on Universal Credit in the Bay at the end of August.

Last week, Steve Darling (Barton with Watcombe) leader of the ruling Lib Dem-Independent coalition that runs Torbay Council penned a letter with deputy leader and cabinet member for finance Darren Cowell (Independent Group, Shiphay), urging Torbay’s Conservative MP Kevin Foster to lobby the government to reconsider its decision. Mr Foster is on the government payroll, as a parliamentary under-secretary at the home office.

The imminent cancellation of the Universal Credit uplift has been widely criticised, even by many of the Conservative MPs who are holding their annual conference this week in Manchester.

Critics argue the £20 reduction will force more pressure on the 5.8 million people on Universal Credit in the UK already affected by rising fuel and energy prices, the end of the furlough scheme last week and the economic consequences of covid. Homelessness charity Crisis warns the move could put 100,000 private renters at risk of homelessness.

In their letter, Cllr Darling and Cowell wrote: “Over the pandemic, the Universal Credit increase has been a lifeline. Both those in work and out of work have found this money invaluable in light of inflationary increases in living and rents rocketing in Torbay. 

“With the uncertainty around fuel costs in recent days, it could never be a worse time to withdraw this support to those most in need in our communities.

“Making the increase permanent is a quick and targeted way to direct support at local communities as we recover from the pandemic.”

Cllr Daring and Cowell argued that given 40 per cent of people on Universal Credit are already employed, ending the uplift would equate to a £1,000 pay cut for many of the lowest paid workers in Torbay and effectively withdraw £10 million from the Bay’s economy.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a think tank, making the uplift permanent would cost taxpayers around £6 billion a year.

Speaking last month, transport secretary Grant Shapps defended the move, saying: “I think most people recognise that if it’s brought in for the pandemic, it’s going to end as we move back to people going back to work and more normal times.”

Appearing on the Andrew Marr on Sunday, prime minister Boris Johnson said it was ‘inappropriate’ to reverse his government’s decision. 

We contacted Torbay MP Kevin Foster for a response to the councillors’ letter, but he hasn’t yet replied.