Over 30 Liberal Democrat Council Leaders in England have written to the government calling for the £20 increase in Universal Credit, introduced in March 2020, to be made permanent.
The letter follows a vote in Parliament held on Monday 18th January 2021 and in which the government abstained, with all Liberal Democrat MPs attending and voting in favour. The motion to increase Universal Credit was carried by 278 votes to nil.
Cllr Howard Sykes MBE, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group at the Local Government Association, said:
Millions of people are suffering in this country as a result of the pandemic and the uplift in Universal Credit has been a lifeline to them. We should be increasing support to unemployed people and their families at this time, not reducing it, so the government should listen to what Parliament overwhelmingly told them on 18th January and make this £20 a week uplift permanent.
Cllr Ruth Dombey OBE, Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat LGA Group, added:
Increasing benefits at this time is the right thing to do, as this is money which will be spent in local businesses and shops across the country, helping to support our high streets and keeping millions of people in jobs. The Conservative government needs to rethink its intention to end this uplift in April and do the right thing in supporting people who have suffered financial hardship as a result of the pandemic, through no fault of their own.
Here’s the full letter from the council leaders:
LGA Liberal Democrat Group
Local Government Association
18 Smith Square
London, SW1P 3HZ
Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP
Chancellor of the Exchequer
11 Downing Street
8th February 2021
We are writing to you regarding the basic rate for Universal Credit and the impact it has on thousands of people across the country who have experienced extreme hardship since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.
Hundreds of thousands of the residents we serve claim and rely on Universal Credit to pay for day-to-day essentials including food, clothing and utilities. In a year when those families and individuals on the lowest incomes have been impacted the most by the months of restrictions, home-schooling and in some cases loss of income and severe isolation, this increase was significant and very welcome by those it helped. The impact of the £20 a week increase reflects the reality that the standard level of benefits was simply not enough and remain inadequate to protect the increasing number of households relying on them as the pandemic rolls on.
Following the vote in Parliament on Monday 18th January 2021, we are asking you to maintain the Universal Credit uplift and permanently increase the basic rate by £20 per week – the level received by claimants since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. Ending this increase would see the level of unemployment support fall to its lowest real-terms level since 1990-91, and its lowest ever relative to average earnings. Indeed, the basic level of out-of-work support prior to the March boost was – at £74 a week (£3,800 a year) – less than half the absolute poverty line.
At a time when local economies and independent shops are taking a hit from the on-going restrictions on the high-street, the increase in benefit levels has also supported local businesses and local jobs during the pandemic and will continue to do so as people are more mindful to shop local and support their communities.
As Liberal Democrat leaders and deputy leaders representing councils across the country, we ask you to reconsider ending this uplift in April 2021 and instead make the £20 increase to Universal Credit permanent.
• Cllr Ruth Dombey – Leader, London Borough of Sutton
• Cllr Howard Sykes, Leader, LGA Liberal Democrat Group
• Cllr Joe Harris – Leader, Cotswold District Council
• Cllr Stuart Bray – Leader, Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council
• Cllr David Worden – Leader, North Devon Council
• Cllr Gareth Roberts – Leader, London Borough of Richmond Upon Thames
• Mayor Peter Taylor – Elected Mayor of Watford
• Mayor Dave Hodgson – Elected Mayor of Bedford
• Cllr Rowena Hay – Leader of Cheltenham Borough Council
• Cllr Bridget Smith – Leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council
• Cllr Steve Darling – Leader of Torbay Council
• Cllr Keith House – Leader of Eastleigh Borough Council
• Cllr Sue Cooper – Leader, South Oxfordshire District Council
• Cllr Virginia Taylor – Leader, Eden District Council
• Cllr Stephen Robinson – Leader, Chelmsford City Council
• Cllr Mark Cory – Leader, Colchester City Council
• Cllr Martin Cox – Leader, Maidstone Borough Council
• Cllr Federica Smith-Roberts, Leader, Somerset West and Taunton Council
• Cllr Keith Aspden, Leader, City of York Council
• Cllr James MacCleary, Leader of Lewes District Council
• Cllr Chris White, Leader of St Albans District Council
• Cllr David Tutt, Leader of Eastbourne Borough Council
• Cllr Gerald Vernon Jackson, Leader of Portsmouth City Council
• Cllr Emily Smith, Leader, Vale of White Horse District Council
• Cllr Giles Archibald, Leader, South Lakeland District Council
• Cllr Alan Connett, Leader, Teignbridge District Council
• Cllr Caroline Kerr, Leader, Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames
• Cllr Alison Barnes – Deputy Leader, Redcar and Cleveland Council
• Cllr Mike Bell – Deputy Leader, North Somerset Council
• Cllr Peter Thornton – Deputy Leader, Cumbria County Council
• Cllr Eileen Wragg – Deputy Leader, East Devon District Council
• Cllr Steve Carr – Deputy Leader, Broxtowe Council
• Cllr Mary Marshall – Deputy Leader, Elmbridge Borough Council
• Cllr Caroline Reeves – Deputy Leader, Guildford Borough Council
• Cllr Paul Clark – Deputy Leader, North Herts District Council
• Cllr David Whipp – Deputy Leader, Pendle Borough Council