SIX former work and pensions secretaries have urged the Chancellor to maintain the temporary uplift to Universal Credit.
The £20 increase per week is due to finish at the end of September, along with other coronavirus-related financial support schemes such as furlough and self-employed support.
However former Tory ministers have called for it to be kept on, and comes after months of demands for the same thing by opposition politicians in the SNP, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
Scottish charities gave evidence to a Commons committee earlier this year in which they said the extra money had been a lifeline for those living on the breadline, and also urged the UK Government to maintain the increase permanently.
Now former Tory leader and so-alled architect of Universal Credit (UC) Sir Iain Duncan Smith, along with five of his successors – Stephen Crabb, Damian Green, David Gauke, Esther McVey and Amber Rudd – have penned a letter in a bid to persuade Rishi Sunak to stick with the £5 billion benefits investment even after coronavirus restrictions have been eased.
Sir Iain warned that a failure to keep the uplift would “damage living standards, health and opportunities” for those that “need our support most as we emerge from the pandemic”.
One think tank has estimated that Universal Credit has saved 650,000 from falling into poverty during the pandemic, despite the number of claims doubling to six million in the same period.
In a joint letter to Mr Sunak, the six former cabinet ministers said: “The UC uplift has rightly been allocated into the standard allowance of UC as many have not been able to work and it has been right to protect people whilst they cannot work.
“But as the economy reopens, and the Government re-evaluates where it has been spending money, we ask that the current funding for individuals in the Universal Credit envelope be kept at the current level.”
Ministers told MPs last week that there will be less need for the £20 weekly rise once restrictions have been scrapped.
However Sir Ian said making it permanent “should be at the heart of what makes us Conservatives”.
He said: “One of the greatest, but unremarked, successes of the Government’s response to Covid has been the benefit system.
“Universal Credit has held up well as a system for distributing money to those who need it, and the extra £20 added to has been essential in allowing people to live with dignity.”
He continued:”Today all six former Conservative secretaries of state for work and pensions have written with one voice to urge the Chancellor to protect the extra money he has invested in Universal Credit.
“As such, this investment should be at the heart of what makes us Conservatives: delivering the policies needed to provide businesses and people across the UK with opportunities to prosper, whilst simultaneously providing support to those at risk of being left behind.
“A failure to act would mean not grasping this opportunity to invest in a future with more work and less poverty and would damage living standards, health and opportunities for some of the families that need our support most as we emerge from the pandemic.”