This Covid-19 pandemic has taught us that there are many things in life that we can’t plan for.
Who would have thought that almost a year ago the world would experience a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, causing so much human suffering and loss of life, dramatically affect our relationships with other people in our communities and our families, and create a new way of living.
The coronavirus pandemic has placed enormous strain on our NHS and robbed individuals and businesses of their livelihoods and we face many more difficult months ahead.
What this pandemic has also showed us is that we need a social security system we can rely on.
We entered the crisis with an inadequate benefit system which has been hit by years of freezes and cuts by this callous government, leaving low-income families struggling to make ends meet.
In March last year, with our social security system unable to keep many families above the breadline, the government were left with little choice but to implement a £20-per-week uplift to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit for a year.
This uplift has been a lifeline to many working families, many of whom are on low pay, or have seen their incomes drop because they have been furloughed.
This would mean over six million low-million families would lose £1,040 from their annual income from April.
This would also create serious financial hardship and pull 500,000 people into poverty, including 200,000 children.
I can remember when the government said at the beginning of the pandemic that they would “put their arms around” us.
But those words will certainly ring hollow when they intend to take £1,000 a year off Britain’s poorest families during the pandemic and that’s why Labour forced a vote in Westminster this week, to highlight this.
I pressed the Chancellor on this issue only last week. It is vital that the Government must change course, and accept that this uplift must be extended but also extend the uplift to all legacy benefits too.
It is inexplicable that the Tories are now apparently ready to take this lifeline away from struggling families.
Almost 9,000 people in the Jarrow constituency will see their household income drop by around £1,040 a year and around half a million more people, including 200,000 children across the country, will be pushed into poverty.
To remove this vital support for struggling families at this difficult time is taking away help from the very people who need this financial help the most.
This is against a backdrop where unemployment is forecast to hit 2.6 million by the middle of the year.
Alongside this, support provided by the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is set to end after 30 April 2021, likely resulting in further redundancies, increased unemployment and more people needing to claim Universal Credit.
This extra £20 a week does not afford applicants a lavish lifestyle. Instead, it has provided a lifeline to many families who have already seen their already meagre incomes squeezed during the pandemic because they have had to spend more on food, gas and electricity, internet connection, and home schooling. That’s why it must be extended.
The roll-out of the vaccine has given us hope but needlessly and heartlessly cutting family incomes will heap more financial pressure on them.
The government did the right thing last year with the uplift in Universal Credit, however, the level of need has not changed. The pandemic continues to hit us hard, so they must extend this uplift and extend to people on legacy benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Income Support, who haven’t received an equivalent uplift to their benefit awards.
With continued restrictions and the added costs of lockdown it is critical families keep this added support and are told so now, rather than facing weeks of uncertainty ahead.