‘Safety net’ is being ripped from 1 in 5 Welsh families
Sioned Williams MS writes about the removal of a £20 uplift in Universal Credit that will impact over 275,000 families in Wales.
This article was published in Nation Cymru on 15 September 2021.
What sort of message does it send to hear that something the government’s set up to strengthen the safety net beneath you, is being removed – by that same government? 1 in 5 families in Wales are about to find out.
When the Chancellor announced an uplift to Universal Credit, he described it as a “significantly strengthened safety net”.
So, presumably, when the Tory UK government removes the £20 uplift on 6 October, it will leave families with a “significantly weakened safety net”?
The UK government’s solution: Work two more hours.
Aside from the absolute callousness of this statement, and a complete lack of understanding of the personal situation of thousands of families across the UK, it’s also utterly false. Universal Credit is a tapered benefit, which means for every £1 you earn, your payment reduces by 63p. So for a job that pays £10 per hour, it will take a lot more than 2 hours to earn £20 more.
The UK Cabinet minister who made these comments also pointed to the vast number of job vacancies, as if people who already hold down one job (or more) could easily take on another job. In fact, 38% of people claiming Universal Credit in Wales have a job. They rely on Universal Credit because their work simply does not pay enough. With Working Tax Credit, the clue is in the name – you must work a certain number of hours in a week to qualify.
This isn’t an unemployment issue, but it is another shoddy excuse from a Tory government that quite frankly doesn’t care about the consequences of plunging thousands of families further into poverty.
While we’re on the topic of excuses, the next justification you might expect to hear is that this uplift was only ever badged as temporary. This much is true – and, notwithstanding the questionable wisdom of using a “strengthened safety net” metaphor, could even be forgiven, were it not for the fact that the removal is coming at a time when cost of living is predicted to increase.
Not only this, but the removal of the uplift will be the biggest overnight reduction of benefits in the history of the welfare state. In fact, without the uplift, benefits for the unemployed would be at their lowest real-terms level since the early 1990s. Had it grown in line with GDP per capita since 1990, it would be £40 a week higher.
And it gets worse for families in Wales. According to the Bevan Foundation – the independent group with a commitment to social justice in Wales – the impact will be worse for Welsh families, simply because a higher proportion of families claim Universal Credit or Working Tax Credit in Wales compared to Great Britain as a whole. This difference is even more significant when you look at families with children. For those families, four in ten will be affected: That’s four in ten families with children, who will suddenly find their safety net looks a whole less safe on 6 October.
So here we have a Welsh problem, in the hands of a Tory government seated in another country, and who, quite frankly, does not care.
It will not surprise you to hear that I vehemently oppose the proposal to scrap the £20 uplift in Universal Credit, and when I opened the debate in the Senedd on Wednesday 15 September, I called on my fellow Members to join me in opposing the UK Government’s proposal.
I also wanted the Senedd to recognise that families in Wales will be adversely affected by these changes.
Lastly, I called on the Welsh Government to actively pursue solutions to tackle poverty in Wales. If the Welsh Government truly aspires to ensure dignity, fairness and a decent life for all of our people, there can be no argument against securing the means to do so. They should start by pursuing the devolution of powers over welfare, but they must also employ any necessary measures within their power to mitigate the universal credit reduction.
Otherwise the removal of this uplift in Universal Credit is not just weakening the safety net for 275,000 families in Wales – it’s ripping it out from under them, with no other lifeline available.