‘Let’s extend it’ Conservative MP calls on Government to maintain Universal Credit uplift

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The Government has reportedly decided the £20 per-week increase in Universal Credit payments will be “phased out” in the autumn. But in an appearance on the BBC’s Newsnight programme, one Conservative MP called on Number 10 to rethink the move.

Speaking to Kirsty Wark, Nigel Mills, the MP for Amber Valley and member of the Commons’ Work and Pensions Committee, said he wanted to maintain the increase in weekly Universal Credit payments until the end of the financial year.

He said: “Let’s extend it through until the end of the financial year, the end of March, and we can see what the pandemic and economic position is then.”

Looking back at the decision made by Number 10 to make the increase earlier in the pandemic, Mills said: “I think we have to keep making the argument that the Government got the decision right at the start of the pandemic that this uplift was needed to help people through the pandemic.”

The MP for Amber Valley added: “I think it is probably needed in the long-term as well.”

Mills warned that the full economic effect of the pandemic has not yet hit the pockets of many Britons and claimed many people could be made redundant after the furlough scheme comes to an end.

“This pandemic isn’t over yet, the economic impacts aren’t finished, the job market is not back to normal,” he said.

“My instinct is that £20 actually gets the welfare back to the right level rather than making it too high.”

Mills’ comments follow speculation that other Conservative MPs could put pressure on Number 10 to maintain the uplift.

Steve Baker, the prominent Brexiteer and MP for Wycombe, joined Mills in expressing his support for the £20 increase.

Baker’s constituency was identified in a study by the University of Sheffield as the area worst hit by food insecurity.

Almost 30 percent of people struggle to access food and 14 percent are estimated to go hungry.

The Resolution Foundation has also said reducing the rate could put an additional 700,000 children into poverty by 2050.

It is also expected that many members of the 50-strong Northern Research Group could challenge the Government over the decision to cut the £20-weekly increase.

When asked how many of his Conservative colleagues could oppose the Government’s move, Mills said: “I think there could be a large number of [Tory] MPs who vote to keep this uplift in place until the end of the financial year.”

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Despite some opposition from the Conservative backbenches, there will not be a Commons vote on returning Universal Credit to its pre-Covid rate.

It has been estimated that maintaining the £20-per-week uplift could cost the Exchequer up to £6billion per year.

However, Mills suggested that his six month recommendation would only cost at most an additional £3billion.

“If the job market improves, and more people get back into work and are working full hours and [getting] more pay then the actual benefit payments start to taper off, so I think the bill could be a lot less than the £3billion for the six months,” he said.

“I actually don’t think, two [or] two-and-a-half billion, to actually get the most poor in society, those living on benefits, through till the end of this crisis is that big a bill.”

When asked about potential tax rises, he said: “I think we should get people through the pandemic first, I actually think we probably do need this increase in the long term, that the welfare cuts of the last decade probably went a bit too far and we’ve ended up with people not having enough to live on if they’re living solely on the bottom levels of Universal Credit.”

“There’s scope to make increases and reductions all over the place.”

Official statistics estimate five million British households received Universal Credit in February 2021.

One-in-three Universal Credit recipients are also in work.

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