Universal Credit reduction: Claimant on chemotherapy says she can no longer afford heating

The woman explained how important the Universal Credit uplift was: ‘You can put heating on for a couple of hours a day rather than sitting there freezing.’

A woman undergoing chemotherapy has urged the Government to keep the Universal Credit uplift, saying she can no longer afford to heat her home.

The single woman, in her 60s, told LondonWorld how much of an impact the extra £80-a-month has on her life.

She said: “It can go towards bills - you can put heating on for a couple of hours a day rather than sitting there freezing.”

The woman - who wished to remain anonymous - was a care worker before suffering cancer, and was referred to the Wandsworth Food Bank during the pandemic.

“This boost to Universal Credit has been really good,” she added.

“An extra £80 a month is a lot of money, especially when you’re living on the breadline, and I’m going to miss it.”

The £20-a-week payment increase, which was temporarily brought in by the Government to help households deal with the impact of Covid-19, is ending today.

Charities have begged Boris Johnson to keep the extra Universal Credit payment, saying it has prevented many thousands of Londoners from falling into poverty.

A woman suffering cancer, who gets help from the Wandsworth Food Bank, said she wouldn’t be able to afford heating. Credit: Wandsworth Food Bank

Research commissioned by City Hall found that the withdrawal of the uplift will put 130,000 more Londoners into poverty, with some of the most disadvantaged groups, including 60,000 lone parents, being hardest hit.

The findings also revealed that London will be worse affected than the rest of the country and that the number of black Londoners living in poverty would grow by 8%.

Wandsworth Food Bank - which has been helping the woman on chemotherapy - said it expected many more referrals with the Universal Credit uplift ending.

It said the cut will affect 27,000 people across Wandsworth, with 40% of those in paid work.

The food bank’s Sarah Chapman said: “We’re really concerned about the increased hardship and poverty this will cause, and we sadly expect to see an increase in numbers of people and families being referred to us this autumn as a result.

“It’s also why we’re still hoping the government changes course and chooses to keep the lifeline of the £20 UC uplift - even at the 11th hour.”

On top of the benefits uplift coming to an end, fuel prices in the UK are expected to rise by £139, after energy regulator Ofgem raised the energy price cap.

Wandsworth Food Bank. Credit: Wandsworth Food Bank

“Even before the pandemic you had a large group of people in London who were struggling to get by in one of the most expensive cities in the world,” Joe Cole, project manager for Advice for Renters, told LondonWorld.

“The challenges these people are facing are not new – high rent, low quality housing, high prices and low pay have been around and unaddressed for a long time.

“But the pandemic, on top of which we now pile the cut in Universal Credit and the shock increases in energy prices, is bringing to light just how precarious life in the capital is.

Joe Cole from Advice for Renters. Credit: Advice for Renters

“If you think that a £20 reduction in universal credit is pushing people over the edge…what more the first of at least two almost £150 energy price rises.

“We are looking at a clear danger of pushing families into poverty, or into extreme poverty not at some future date but within the next few weeks.

“Having to choose between having the lights on or food on the table, let alone keeping themselves warm, is not a choice that should have to be made in the richest city in one of the richest countries in the world.”

“A small caveat from us is that all of these subsets of poverty - fuel poverty, food poverty, period poverty etc - are actually just poverty,” Chapman continued

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan. Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

“And so the solution is more money in people’s pockets, either through secure work that pays the real Living Wage, or benefit payments that cover the cost of rent, food, fuel and essentials for times when we’re not able to work, or are looking for work.”

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “The Government’s decision to increase Universal Credit and Working Tax credits enabled many Londoners to make ends meet during this incredibly challenging period.

“Cutting this support now would have a devastating impact on hundreds of thousands of Londoners, on top of the forthcoming rise in fuel bills.

“With so much talk about ‘levelling up’, we must not forget that our capital has some of the most deprived communities anywhere in the UK and ending the uplift will hit many Londoners hard.

“I urge Ministers to do the right thing – to not only retain the uplift, but go further and remove the benefit cap to help cut poverty in London and across the country.”

A government spokesperson said the temporary uplift to Universal Credit helped claimants through “the toughest stages of the pandemic”.

But added that “with record vacancies available” the focus was on “helping claimants … getting into work”.