The Health Foundation is calling on the government to make permanent its temporary increase to Universal Credit of £20 per week in an effort to help protect people from the negative mental and physical health impacts of poverty.
New polling from the the Health Foundation and Ipsos MORI shows the move is supported by a majority of the public. In the recent survey, 59% of the public support making this increase permanent beyond April 2021 (including 42% who strongly support this), while only 20% would oppose this (including 10% who would strongly oppose it).
In April, the government introduced the £20 a week increase in Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit for families during the pandemic. However, the increase is due to be reversed in April 2021. Despite the original proposal enjoying strong public backing – with 74% of people supporting the uplift during the pandemic and only 9% opposed – the Chancellor neglected to commit to extending the increase in his recent spending review.
Even before the pandemic hit more than 1 million households, including 550,000 children, were unable to afford the bare essentials, according to a report last week by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The Government currently plans to reverse the £20 increase to Universal Credit, just as the Office for Budget Responsibility’s central forecast expects unemployment to peak at 7.5%.
The government’s plans would remove vital support for the poorest at the worst possible time. Previous analysis from the Health Foundation, published in July, has highlighted that the poorest 40% were already twice as likely to report ill health than the richest 20% before COVID-19. The independent charity warns that the economic blows from the pandemic now risk widening existing health inequalities.
The research also finds that public support for the UK government's response to the pandemic has deteriorated. Only 39% of the public think the government has handled the pandemic well, a fall of 21 percentage points from 60% in May.
There is broad-based support for making the £20 Universal Credit uplift permanent. This is particularly strong among those who think the government has not handled the pandemic well (66% of whom support a permanent uplift, compared to 59% overall), as well as those who want stronger measures to contain the spread of the virus (67% of whom support this). Support is consistent across most parts of society, with 46% of Conservative voters saying they would support the move, compared to 32% who are opposed.
Chief Executive of the Health Foundation, Dr Jennifer Dixon, said:
'There’s a clear link between poverty and poor health. Those with the lowest incomes, including many who have lost jobs and income due to the pandemic, will be hit the hardest if the Chancellor lets the £20 per week increase in Universal Credit expire.
'The increase is worth £1,040 per year for the six million households receiving it, many with children, who can’t afford the basics. The pandemic will have long-term scarring effects on our society unless the government acts more. This research shows the public want better and more secure support for the most vulnerable.
'Making the £20 uplift permanent would show that we are all in this together and the government really is committed to 'building back better'. It is also a clear opportunity to rebuild public support among those increasingly skeptical about the government’s overall approach to handling the pandemic.'
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