The Government should treat Covid borrowing as “a war debt” and “pause” ending the uplift as tough winter looms for poor families
Ex-Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith has begged Boris Johnson not to slash the £20 uplift to Universal Credit amid fears child poverty is set to soar.
The former Work and Pension Secretary Mr Duncan Smith, known as ‘the Godfather of Universal Credit’, urged ministers “please” not to cut the benefit to rush paying Covid debt.
The benefit claimed by some 5.5m families will be levelled down by £1,000-a-year from this month, despite pleas from MPs, Tories and charities.
It comes as ministers prepare to hike National Insurance from April and with energy bills set to rise this winter, with many warning of a perfect storm for poor families.
Speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Mr Duncan Smith said: “I think we shouldn’t be ending [the Universal Credit uplift].
“Right now, we’re facing a very turbulent period. We have no idea where the cost of living is going to go now inflation is going to stick around 4% or even be higher.”
In the first year of the pandemic, from April 2020 to 2021, the Government borrowed £299bn.
The Government is expected to borrow less in the current year, April 2021 to 2022, though the figure could still be more than £200bn.
But Mr Duncan Smith said it was a “mistake” to try and “immediately” reduce the Covid debt.
He said: “I think we should be looking at the Covid debt as a war debt.
“We should look at it on the basis that we first of all need to get the economy moving and we need to get those who are in the lowest income groups rise and rise up in their income groups – that’s part of what I consider conservatism to be.”
Campaigning footballer Marcus Rashford is among those calling for the Government to rethink cutting £1,000 from poor households.
Mr Duncan Smith added the Government should be about “intervention when it’s necessary”.
He added: “If the government really wants to [cut UC] this, I have a very simple answer: pause, at least until you get to the budget.
“And then let’s have a think of where we are at that stage.
“But this winter right now with so many uncertainties, I simply say for the sake of those who get that money from Universal Credit, it may sound strange from a Conservative, but I have to say, leave it with them.
“Help them through it, move it if necessary to the taper, but invest in success.
“Universal Credit has been an unbelievable success through the lockdown.
“My answer is very simple, depart from failure, invest in success. Let’s just keep that money and help those people make it up into work and stable, incomes, let’s please do that.”