The UK government’s decision to cut Universal Credit by £20 ($26.88) a week will put at least 100,000 renters at risk of becoming homeless, a housing charity has said.
The figures come from Crisis, a housing charity, which said the government has a duty of care to citizens to protect them from homelessness caused by the coronavirus crisis.
Ministers on Thursday announced a new targeted benefit for people in financial difficulties, and an expected cost-of-living crunch could push the vulnerable over the edge. Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the proportion of private renters relying on benefits in England has rocketed to about one in three.
The pressure to halt the deduction to the benefit, which currently pays a minimum standard allowance of £344 a month, shows no sign of abating.
England footballer Marcus Rashford has joined a growing chorus of critics calling for the payment to be retained, arguing that any cut could lead to children going hungry.
Fears are being exacerbated as the UC cut coincides with the lifting on Friday of the final set of emergency restrictions on evictions in England.
The government’s furlough scheme is ending at the same time.
“For many struggling renters this cut could be the final blow that forces them from their homes,” said Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of Crisis.
“The UK government must change course and keep the £20 uplift so that people don’t needlessly lose their homes this winter and we have a fighting chance at recovery.
“The UK government assured people they would not lose their home because of the crisis; we must not fail them now.”
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke said that keeping the UC uplift was not the right way to help struggling families.
He said the uplift was always intended by legislators to be a “very specific response” to the problems that arose as a result of the pandemic but is no longer necessary.
“Universal credit is not the right response to this situation,” he told Sky News this morning.
“It’s worth reminding people that had we maintained this uplift, we’d have been talking the equivalent of a penny on income tax and 3p on fuel duties to sustain it. It’s an enormously expensive mechanism.”
He said the government will today introduce the Household Support Fund that would make sure that between three and four million families of low income in England can be helped with household expenses.
“That will be predominantly focused on food and utilities, distributed through councils, worth an average of £100 each,” he said.
Since February 2020, 560,000 private renters applied for benefits, according to housing charity Shelter’s analysis of the Department of Work and Pensions figures.
Data also shows the number of private renters relying on UC or housing benefit for rent surged to almost two million in May 2021, weeks after the first lockdown was enforced.
Footballer Rashford has urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to do a U-turn on the UC cut, which is planned to come into effect from next week.
“Instead of removing vital support, we should be focusing on developing a long-term roadmap out of this child hunger pandemic,” he said.
“On 6 October, millions lose a lifeline. It’s a move that Child Poverty Action Group says will raise child poverty to one in three.”