On 19 November 2020, twenty-two leaders in the Caritas network in England and Wales called jointly on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to extend welfare benefits, to avoid a sharp rise in child poverty in early 2021.
Each year, the Government is required by law to review the level of benefits, for example to consider cost of living increases. In April 2020, the Government increased both Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit by £20 a week. That uplift was worth less than the reduction in value of these benefits since 2011, and was a temporary measure during the pandemic, set to expire in March 2021. ‘Legacy benefits’ (Employment Support Allowance, Income Support and Job Seekers’ Allowance) were excluded from the £20 uplift.
The charity leaders’ calls on the Chancellor were:
- To make permanent the £20 uplift, as a minimum.
- To extend the uplift to people entitled to legacy benefits.
- To focus on cash payments to families as a more dignified alternative to school meal vouchers.
Full text of the letter
Uprating of Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit and Legacy Benefits
We write to you as leaders in the Caritas network of Catholic charitable organisations addressing poverty and injustice in England and Wales. Our specialist staff and volunteers are alongside people experiencing destitution in many contexts, creating personal support beyond the capacity of statutory services. Through safe and supported structures, we are also at the heart of work to strengthen communities, including in the most ‘left behind’ areas.
We recognise the exceptional additional pressures on many households and public spending through the Covid-19 pandemic. Among the many vital measures you have taken, we welcome the support you have given to households on low incomes, particularly through the temporary £20 per week benefit uplift, the extension of Free School Meals and activity funding during school holidays into 2021.
The £20 uplift has prevented a significant, sharp increase in poverty among many households, following a long period of income stagnation and benefit freezes. Your forthcoming decision on the uprating of benefits from April 2021 is critical for sustaining both individuals and family life, and to prevent wider, long-term escalation in costs to the public purse. We note with concern the evidence supplied to you in recent months by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, among others. We would encourage you as a minimum to make permanent the £20 uplift in Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit, and to extend it to people on Employment Support Allowance, Income Support and Job Seekers’ Allowance, many of whom are people with disabilities, long-term conditions, and carers. A decision this month would help families plan with more certainty beyond the winter.
While we recognise that school meal voucher provision has short-term benefits, and is welcomed by many parents, an increase in the cash available to households in low incomes is preferable. An increase in payments through the benefits system would more fully respect the dignity and choice available to families, and de-stigmatise the experience of shopping for basics. While the voucher system is tied to certain retailers, cash payments have the potential to stimulate the economy through parents’ ready access to a wider range of local community retailers outside the voucher system, providing a more level playing field for small businesses. Cash payments have the best potential to reduce additional burdens on schools and local authorities, and to encourage cooperation with community-led initiatives that enable households to participate well in dignified activities beyond receipt of food.
Dr Philip McCarthy, Chief Executive Officer, Caritas Social Action Network
Ben Bano, Director, Welcome Me As I Am
Mick Clarke, Chief Executive, The Passage
John Coleby, Director, Caritas Westminster
Reverend Dr. Joseph D Cortis, Coordinator for Caritas Leeds
Bernadette Fisher, Chief Executive Officer, Brentwood Catholic Children’s Society
Ben Gilchrist, Chief Executive Officer, Caritas Diocese of Shrewsbury
Eddie Gilmore, Chief Executive, Irish Chaplaincy
Stuart Hanlon, Director, Caritas Diocese of Hallam
Carol Hill, Director, Catholic Care (Diocese of Leeds)
Andy Keen-Downs, Chief Executive, Prison Advice and Care Trust
Dr Rosemary Keenan, Chief Executive, Catholic Children’s Society (Westminster)
Phil Kerton, Seeking Sanctuary
Very Reverend Canon John Lumley, Diocese of Middlesbrough
Tony McLean, Chief Executive, St Joseph’s Hospice
Maureen Meatcher, Deputy President, National Board of Catholic Women
David Morris, Chief Executive Officer, NOAH Enterprise
Elizabeth Palmer, Chief Executive, St Vincent de Paul Society (England and Wales)
Mike Thiedke, Chief Executive, Depaul UK
Steven Webb, Director of Development, Caritas Diocese of Brentwood
Mark Wiggin, Director, Caritas Diocese of Salford
Normandie Wragg, Chief Executive Officer, Nugent
Picture credit: Ricky Willis, the Skint Dad Blog