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'As church leaders, we must speak up' - over 1,100 sign letter to PM over Universal Credit cut

by Donna Birrell

Over 1,100 church leaders have signed a letter to the Prime Minister urging the government not to scrap the £20 Universal Credit uplift.

In the letter to Boris Johnson, created in partnership with the charities, Church Action on Poverty and Christians Against Poverty, the church leaders ask the government to 'build a just and compassionate social security system that our whole society can have confidence in.'

The Universal Credit uplift of £20 a week is due to be scrapped from October, a move which will impact millions of households who will see a shortfall of around £1040 a year. The extra payment was introduced to help people cope during the pandemic.

The letter reads: "If the Government persists with this cut, it would be the single biggest overnight reduction in the basic rate of social security since the welfare state was established in the 1940s. Millions of low income households will be swept further into poverty as a result. As Christians, we are compelled by the gospel imperative to prioritise the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable. As church leaders, we must speak up, because of the impact this will have on our poorest neighbours and church members."

Niall Cooper, Director of Church Action on Poverty told Premier it's significant that there has been such a high level of support: "I think that shows the unanimity of view within the churches about the importance of keeping the £20 a week, Universal Credit payment. Churches clearly see the importance of this to families across the country, that £20 a week is a huge amount of money to take from the weekly budgets for families that are already struggling to make ends meet.

"The time is now very short, but it's still possible for government to do the right thing. We're hoping and praying that the government, Boris Johnson and the Chancellor, will see the moral case and the sense of keeping people above the lifeline."

Niall Cooper accepts that the government's funds aren't limitless, but says: "There isn't a bottomless pit of money. But I think that the question is who in our society should pay the price of the sacrifices that have to be made? Surely it isn't those that are already struggling. Worrying about where their next meal is going to come from who are expected to tighten their belts, in a just and compassionate society. It should be those with the broadest shoulders, those with more income, who are expected to shoulder the burden and not the poorest and most vulnerable. That's very clear from Christian theology from what we believe that it's the poorest who should be protected, but in times of hardship and need, we should be defending and supporting those who are struggling. And there are other ways in which we can rebuild the economy."

Bishop of Doncaster, Rt Rev Sophie Jelley who was among the signatories says: "I fully support the plea to retain Universal Credit at the current level at the present time. With the increase in food and energy prices together with the impact of the pandemic on household income I am extremely concerned about families and households already struggling to make ends meet.
"There is no doubt that recent months have placed additional burdens on the poorest in our communities and this feels like the least we can do to show practical compassion and care at this tremendously difficult time."
Christians Against Poverty's UK Chief Executive, Paula Stringer says, "This cut will lead to thousands more people falling into problem debt. If it goes ahead many will be forced to make impossible choices. They'll be faced with the very real prospect of falling into arrears and having to choose whether to eat or put the heating on to stay warm. No one should ever have to choose between food or heating, it's simply not right, but that will be the heartbreaking reality if this cut goes ahead."

Over the weekend, Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, defended the cut.

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show: “I think most people recognise that if it’s brought in for the pandemic, it’s going to end as we move back to people going back to work and more normal times. We can’t keep all these things in place, otherwise you’d have to put several pennies on income tax to pay for the policy to run.”

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