THE UK government will unveil its budget this week as pressure continues for a £20 uplift to Universal Credit to be restored. 

The £20 increase to the benefit had been introduced at the start of the pandemic but was withdrawn at the beginning of this month. 

An unusual move in the House of Lords, by Conservative peer Philippa Stroud and backed by former work and pensions secretary David Willets, will attempt to restore the uplift – though as an intervention in financial implications of legislation it may be considered outside of the scope of the second chamber. 

Labour is also pushing an amendment to the social security uprating bill that would force the government to set out the impact on pensioner poverty in six months time. 

The Lords will consider the social security bill on Tuesday – the eve of chancellor Rishi Sunak’s budget and any moves on the amount paid to Universal Credit claimants could signal how sensitive the government is to opposition, especially from within the Conservative Party. 

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Councillors in Torfaen and Newport this month passed motions to condemn the benefit cut though those could easily be dismissed as posturing by Labour controlled councils while Independent/Conservative controlled Powys council rejected a motion to oppose the cut in September and ask the county’s two Conservative MPs to lobby for its restoration. 

In Torfaen, which includes Cwmbran and former colliery towns like Pontypool, the council will increase its Discretionary Housing Payments by £4 a week to help offset the ending of the uplift. 

That will help about 700 households in the borough but the council says the ending of the uplift will leave 7,000 households worse off by £1,000 a year. 

“We believe stepping in is the best thing we can do to help those families and to prevent crisis occurring,” Anthony Hunt the council leader has said. 

“£4 a week might not seem a lot but of course it’s four loaves of bread, a chunk of the heating bill, it helps them meet the costs of rent as well.” 

The council has also highlighted how community initiatives, such as food banks, are supporting those in need. 

In Powys the council cabinet said it wanted to concentrate on what it could do such as supporting agencies such as working with advice agencies. 

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Community run foodbank Llani Pantri in Llanidloes has warned the loss of £20 could mean many families that are “just about managing” will have to choose between heating and eating as the nights draw in. 

"It's not just people living on benefits that are affected, its people who are working a couple of jobs and just about making ends meet," secretary Jo Symanowski told our sister title The Powys County Times

Between 10 to 15 volunteers help run the pantry, which provides food to anyone in need no questions asked, from a former Post Office in the town. 

"We are open every single Thursday from 10.30 to 2.30. You don't need a referral, just drop in if you need feeding,” said the organiser. 

"We don't ask any questions. If your benefits are low, if your universal credit has been cut, if you've not been paid – whatever the reason if you need food, drop in and we're here to help." 

In Flintshire 42 per cent of those seeing their benefits drop are families with children and 40 per cent are already in work, which mirrors the picture across the UK with 5.8 million people claiming the benefit. 

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Citizens Advice Flintshire has supported over 1,000 people with Universal Credit since March last year. 

It says the £20 a week increase has been a ‘lifeline’ and has supported people who were already struggling before the pandemic as well as those hit by Covid job losses. 

Citizens Advice Flintshire and the Wrexham Foodbank are among charities that have urged the government to reinstate the £20 uplift. 

Our sister title The Leader spoke to people in the north east struggling to make ends meet. 

A woman from the Shotton area of Deeside, left unable to work after a car accident a number of years ago, said: “It is not just the cut in UC – energy prices and the cost of shopping has gone up, too. 

“My £40 per week bills are set to rise and the extra £20-a-week would have been the difference between eating and having heating, rather than just one of those two things. 

“All we are told is to go and look for work – but I can’t, I really wish I could.” 

The Wrexham Foodbank, which is part of the Trussell Trust network the largest across the UK, provided 7,007 emergency food parcels to people in Wrexham between April 2020 and March 2021. Of this number, 2,602 went to children. 

Flintshire council has said it is braced for an increase in fuel poverty, food poverty and people falling into rent arrears due to the cut and said arrangements are in place with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure referrals from the Job Centre Plus to local support agencies including the council’s Welfare Reform Team. 

READ MORE: Warning energy bills may lead to fuel poverty this winter

The UK government has insisted that it always said the £20 uplift was a temporary measure which it said had helped claimants through the financial shock of the pandemic and it wants to support people into work. 

If the government is to make any unexpected move to restore, or enhance Universal Credit payments, this week’s budget would be the most obvious opportunity to do so. 

However rising food and energy costs and inflation rising means the cost of living is only going to get tighter and calls for the government to take action louder. 

Additional reporting Saul Cooke-Black, Joe Robinson and Mike Sheridan

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