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Government talk of ‘levelling up’ is cynical spin, as the £20 UC cut demonstrates a determination to punish the already poor, argues Steph Pike

Despite a growing outcry, including from some of its own MPs, today the Tory government has scrapped the £20 Universal Credit uplift, in a move that has been described by the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty as ‘unconscionable’ and a breach of international human-rights law that is likely to trigger an explosion of poverty.

This cut, the single biggest cut to social security since the inception of the welfare state, will overnight plunge a further 300,000 children into poverty and pull a lifeline away from millions of people who were barely coping financially, even with the £20 uplift. While food prices are rising and fuel prices set to soar, the Tories are condemning millions of the poorest and most vulnerable people, not only to a winter, but to a future of extreme hardship, poverty, and misery. For the first time in decades, life expectancy is dropping. The level of cuts that this Tory government is inflicting on people, already struggling and reliant on food banks after a decade of austerity, will cost more lives. 

After a decade of austerity and a five-year benefits freeze, the level of welfare benefits has fallen by 6%. We must demand that the £20 cut to Universal Credit is restored, not just until the Covid pandemic is over, as some Tory MPs have argued, but that it is restored permanently. The £20 increase to Universal Credit was necessary, not just because of Covid, but also because pre-Covid benefit levels were already completely inadequate, and so low that people were unable to afford their basic needs, and were already increasingly reliant on food banks and charity.

We must also demand that the £20 increase is extended to all benefits. The £20 uplift only applied to Universal Credit. This has meant that during the pandemic, the government has been running a two-tier benefits system, with thousands of people on Income Support, Income-based Job Seekers Allowance and Income Related Employment Support Allowance receiving £20 a week less than the basic rate of Universal Credit.

The Tory government’s response to the chorus of criticism that this cruel cut has provoked is typically abysmal and arrogant. Their tired mantra of telling people to work their way out of poverty takes us back to the Victorian era of ‘work or starve’. Not only does it ignore those people who are unable to work, but it also continues their right-wing narrative of ‘the deserving and undeserving poor’. This is a narrative of division and one we must reject.

We must demand that our social-security system delivers a generous system of benefits that provides everyone who cannot work or is on a low income, for whatever reason, enough money to cover all their basic needs and to live with dignity, without the need to rely on foodbanks, discretionary grants, and charity.

This government has spent the last few days holed up in a cocoon of luxury, talking about levelling up, in a cynical move to persuade us that they are the champions of ordinary people. But their actions betray and expose their hollow words for what they are; the cynical, barefaced lies of an arrogant elite desperate to hold onto power. As Richard Burgon MP said today, ‘slashing £1,000 a year from millions of people who can’t afford to lose it is not levelling up, it’s punching down. This is another cruel decision from a vile government.’

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Steph Pike

Steph Pike a is a revolutionary socialist, feminist and People's Assembly activist. She is also a  published poet. Her poetry collection 'Petroleuse' is published by Flapjack Press.

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