Rishi Sunak has claimed people will not be forced into poverty when the Government cuts Universal Credit (UC) within weeks.
MPs called on the Chancellor to retain the £20 boost to the benefit payment, which was temporarily introduced to help claimants weather the storm of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Government plans to start phasing out the UC increase from the end of September, based on individual claimants’ payment dates.
Speaking in the Commons, Labour’s Ian Byrne (Liverpool West Derby) said: “Whilst the Chancellor was pondering the colour of the tiles for his new swimming pool, and his new tennis court this summer for his country mansion, back in the real world 20% of my constituency in Liverpool West Derby are facing a £20-a-week cut to Universal Credit, and facing sleepless nights about how they will survive.
“Can the Chancellor tell me what impact assessment the Government has made on the impact of the cut, and how many of the 12,530 people in Liverpool West Derby do they estimate will be forced into poverty?”
Mr Sunak replied: “I don’t accept that people will be forced into poverty, because we know, and all the evidence and history tells us, the best way to take people out of poverty is to find them high-quality work.
“We are creating jobs at a rapid rate – eight months of continuous growth in employment supported by this Government, traineeships, sector-based work academies, apprenticeships, Kickstart, you name it, we are delivering it to help those people in Liverpool get the skills and the jobs they need to help support their families.”
Shadow Treasury minister Bridget Phillipson criticised the planned ending of the UC uplift, asking if it was “really an act of decency”.
She said: “When the Chancellor increased Universal Credit 18 months ago, he said he wanted to look back and remember how we thought first of others and acted with decency. Does the minister consider that taking £20 a week from millions of families across our country is really an act of decency?”
Treasury minister Stephen Barclay replied: “£400 billion of support in response to the Covid pandemic across our public services and individual businesses shows the scale of measures the Chancellor has put in place.
“On the specific issue of Universal Credit, we were always clear that it was going to be temporary as it is… the Chancellor extended it for further six months, but ultimately what divides the two sides is we believe the best approach is to have a plan for jobs, to get people into work and to upskill them in those jobs, they (the Opposition) simply don’t have a plan at all.”
Ms Phillipson called on the minster to advise families on Universal Credit “about how they should manage with £100 less each and every month”.
She said: “Let’s think about what £20 a week really means. £20 a week means being able to afford to buy coats for your children this winter. It means not having to worry about turning on the heating when the weather turns cold.
“Can the minister offer any advice to families who work hard and play by the rules about how they should manage with £100 less each and every month?”
Mr Barclay replied: “As (she) knows, alongside the universal uplift there was other measures of support that were given.
“That is the package of measures put forward by the Government, that is how we have protected people’s living standards, but the key is to have a plan, to get that plan working, and that is helping people back into work.”