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Universal Credit cut will hit areas with the worst health hardest Cut likely to widen inequality in health and wellbeing and runs counter to government’s commitment to levelling up health, warns health charity

10 September 2021

About 2 mins to read

The Health Foundation has warned that a planned £20-a-week cut to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit, due at the beginning of October, is likely to lead to poorer mental health and wellbeing for thousands of families. And will have the greatest impact on those who already suffer the worst health.

Analysis by the independent charity reveals that the average loss of income for working age families in the 10% of local authorities in England with the worst health will be almost twice the loss for those in the 10% of areas with the best health (£207 per year in the 10% of areas with the worst health compared to £102 per year in areas with the best health). The Health Foundation says that this risks exacerbating existing regional inequalities as areas with the worst health will experience a greater reduction in government support.

With the cut to Universal Credit looming, the Health Foundation is urgently highlighting the ‘inextricable link’ between people’s health and their income. It says that the cut would remove vital support at a time when many are already dealing with the stress of rising debts and reduced income, and would contribute to rising levels of mental ill health. The Foundation also notes that this would run counter to the government’s commitment to levelling up health across all areas of the country. 

The analysis shows that people living in areas where a higher share of the population are receiving Universal Credit are more likely to already have significantly worse health. People living in the 10% of areas with the highest share of Universal Credit recipients can on average expect to live 7.8 fewer years in good health (59.8 years vs 67.6 years than those living in the 10% of areas with the lowest share of Universal Credit recipients).

Polling by the Health Foundation and Kantar* shows that there remains strong public support for making the £20 increase – which was put in place during the pandemic – permanent (51% of the UK public are in support with 22% against). Among Conservative voters, 40% support making the increase permanent with 33% against.

The proportion of the working age population receiving Universal Credit has doubled during the pandemic, rising from 7% in February 2020 to 14% by May 2021. The increases have particularly been seen in outer London and other cities, mostly poorer areas that already had the highest levels of Universal Credit recipiency before the pandemic.

Jo Bibby, Director of Health at the Health Foundation, said:

‘The unequal impact of the pandemic on the poorest – in terms of more deaths from COVID-19 and falling family finances – reflects both long standing inequalities and a failure to prioritise support for the most vulnerable in our society. A cut to Universal Credit would be a step backwards and an indication that the government has not learned from mistakes of the recovery from the financial crisis. The pandemic is not yet over and if we are to avoid long-term scars, it is vital that we maintain this support on which so many families rely. The Chancellor must seriously consider the inextricable link between people’s income and their health in making this decision.

‘A recovery led by investment in people and communities – in health, housing, skills and education – along with a safety net to protect the most vulnerable, will pay dividends for the nation’s health and prosperity in the longer term. Without a very serious attempt to improve the health of the nation, damaged not just by the pandemic but also, by the response to the 2008 financial crisis and structural economic change, “levelling up” will remain little more than a slogan.’

Notes to editors

* Survey conducted by Kantar between 24 and 31 August 2021 on a sample of 2,500 UK based people ages 16+.

Media contact

Simon Perry
020 7257 2093

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