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10 February, 2021 Open access

DWP Minister accuses opposition parties of ‘scaremongering’ about removal of £20 universal credit uplift

Minister for Welfare Delivery tells MPs that 'scaremongering in this House has real-world consequences, which the Department sees every day in claimant behaviour'

Minister for Welfare Delivery Will Quince has accused opposition parties of 'scaremongering' about the removal of the £20 universal credit uplift at the end of March 2021.

Opening a House of Commons debate on the draft Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2021, Mr Quince said that he understood that the future of the uplift was the 'elephant in the room', and that -

'I know that the House is eager to know about the future of the £20 uplift to universal credit. The uplift sat, and continues to sit, outside today’s annual uprating order and is therefore not directly relevant to today’s proceedings, but I have to say that the Labour party is simply wrong in its use of emotive language that the Government plan to cut universal credit in April. In fact, the only talk of cutting universal credit in April has come from the Opposition parties. I gently say to them that they should be very careful with their use of emotive language and what they say in this House, because scaremongering in this House has real-world consequences, which the Department sees every day in claimant behaviour.'

Mr Quince went on to say that, while he will study in detail yesterday's Work and Pensions Committee report, The temporary increase in Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit, which calls on the government to extend the uplift for at least one more year -

'... when there is emotive language about things such as cuts to universal credit in April that are frankly not true, that drives adverse claimant behaviour, which we as a Department see day in, day out. For example, we see people who would be eligible for universal credit delaying their claim, so they claim not at the point at which they are eligible but when their money has run out and they have hit crisis. And for example, there are hundreds of thousands of people on legacy benefits who we know would be better off on universal credit, but they do not make a claim. Why? Because of the scaremongering and scares from the Labour party.'

In addition, responding to Work and Pensions Committee Chair Stephen Timms' comment that it was 'perfectly legitimate' for MPs to draw attention to government policy which, as it stands, is to reduce universal credit by £20 a week from April 2021, Mr Quince said -

'I have said this before, but it is important to stress the point: discussions remain ongoing with Her Majesty’s Treasury and a decision on the future of the £20 universal credit uplift will be taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in due course. The Chancellor has been clear that all options are on the table and that he will take into account the assessment of the economic and health situation as the best way to build on the successful support that the government have put in place and provided for those on low incomes and in need throughout this year, through our plan for jobs and winter support package. My right hon. Friend Chancellor of the Exchequer has an unenviable task - there is no question about that - but I point out to the House that he has a proven track record of stepping up to support the poorest, most vulnerable and most disadvantaged in our country throughout this pandemic. I have no doubt that he will continue to do so. The scaremongering is not helpful.'

In response, Mr Timms highlighted that the temporary increase to universal credit and tax credits costs approximately one sixth of the real-terms cut in annual working-age benefits since 2010, and accounts for less than three per cent of overall spending on support during the Covid-19 pandemic, adding that -

'The Minister was right to say that people are scared at the prospect of losing the £20-a-week increase. I think he was kind of hinting—saying, 'Well, don’t worry; it is not really going to happen.' But the answer to that problem is not to suggest that other Members of the House should not be talking about the issue; it is for the government to make a clear statement that they are not going to go ahead with their current policy, which is to cut the benefit in April. I hope we do not have to wait until the Budget, which is still another three weeks away, before we have an announcement about what exactly the government’s policy is.'

Following the debate, the draft Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2021 was approved unopposed.

The debate on the Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2021 is available from Hansard