Call for changes to Universal Credit as more families go hungry

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The government is facing calls to make sweeping changes to the benefits system as more people in our region face poverty as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

Jane Corbett, Liverpool Council assistant mayor and lead for fairness and equality, is calling on the government to ditch the benefit cap, the bedroom tax and the two child limit, as part of a raft of measures to help families.

She is also appealing to ministers to increase child benefit and make Universal Credit's advance payments, which currently operate as a loan, a non-repayable grant.

According to figures from Liverpool Council, urgent needs claims, which families can make if they find themselves in serious financial difficulty, surged in the week before the UK went into lockdown.

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Since then, more than £244,000 has been spent by the council on urgent needs awards, which is an average of nearly £50,000 a week and is an increase of 158% compared to last year.

Similar issues have been seen across the country, with large numbers of people trying to access Universal Credit and other benefits after losing work or seeing their hours cut.

As well as reduced earnings, many families in Liverpool who would have received free school meals are now having to provide lunch to children as well, though government and council voucher schemes aim to limit the financial pressure of this on parents.

Councillor Corbett is calling on the government to make major changes to Universal Credit to help families cope.

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Councillor Jane Corbett

She said: “We need, as a minimum, the removal of the benefit cap, the bedroom tax, and the two child limit.

“The government must also remove the deduction at source for Universal Credit and double child benefit to families.

“It's also vital that advance payments on Universal Credit become non-repayable grants.

“This is an emergency and these steps are vital to protect children across the country and keep them safe.

“They should be put in place for at least the next 12 months and be reviewed after that."

Councillor Corbett said the removal of the bedroom tax in particular was vital for helping families who may have an individual that needs to self-isolate within the home should they have potential coronavirus symptoms.

Liverpool's councillors have made numerous past appeals to the government to drastically change the benefits system, arguing it leaves families struggling.

The DWP, which manages Universal Credit, said "widespread support" was already available to families dealing with the financial fallout of coronavirus.

A spokesman said: “We are doing whatever it takes to ensure people are supported through these unprecedented times, implementing an enormous package of measures to do so.

“Widespread support is available, including increased Universal Credit payments, contributory benefits, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, Self-employment Income Support Scheme, Statutory Sick Pay, mortgage holidays and greater protection for renters.

“Urgent payments are available from Universal Credit and Our Help To Claim service delivered by Citizen’s Advice provides further assistance online or via Freephone for new claimants.”

The department said Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit households will see and increase of £1,040 a year in their income from the start of April.

The Treasury, which oversees policy on child benefit, has been approached for comment.

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