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Low-paid workers tell MPs of fears over end of universal credit top-up

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Low-paid workers have spoken of their fears over the imminent £20-a-week cut to universal credit, warning MPs that it will leave them unable to cover basic living costs from food to energy bills.

Single father Anthony Lynam told the work and pensions select committee that the £20 uplift, introduced in 2020, had been a relief after having to choose between feeding his kids or switching the heating on, and relying on the local church food bank.

He said the removal of the uplift, coupled with rises in food and energy prices, would put his and many other similar families in difficulty. “If that £86 [a month] is removed, I’m destitute, I’m left with a situation of: where do we go from here? And that’s the honest truth,” he told MPs.

Amina Nagawa, a single mother and care worker, said she was left with barely any disposable income each month from her universal credit once rent, bills and council tax had been paid. Even with the £20 uplift she had fallen behind with energy bills.

She said: “Our kids can’t have what other kids have, and we are blamed as if it is our fault. If the government removes our £20 top-up we will suffer even more. I already have next to nothing to spend on food. I often go without so my son can eat … I can’t afford to eat let alone to do what is my heart’s wishes.”

Gemma Widdowfield, a single parent, a former police officer who works for a local authority, said the £86 a month top-up had made all the difference.

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“With £86 I’m managing. What I can tell you is without the £86, without a doubt at the end of the month I would be using my credit card to pay for a tank of diesel. I feel I have to apologise for being a single parent and having a car but a car nowadays is not a luxury, it is a necessity. I need it for my work, and I need it to get my daughter to childcare.

“Without that £86 I will be going back to using my credit cards and spiralling into debt.”

The £20 weekly uplift to universal credit and tax credits was introduced in April 2020 at the start of the pandemic. It is due to be withdrawn in October, despite warnings from charities, the footballer and campaigner Marcus Rashford, Labour MPs and Tory backbenchers that it will leave millions of people struggling to meet basic living costs.

Vikki Waterman, a training coordinator from Durham, told MPs the uplift had allowed her some respite from constantly juggling utility bills and extra costs such as buying a new school uniform.

Asked how she will cope without the extra cash she said: “I will look at [buying] lower quality food as opposed to fresher food that I would like to feed my children with all the time … Lower quality sanitary products. As a 37-year-old woman working full-time you would not have thought that was something I would have to do but these are the things that impact you day to day.”

Caroline Rice, a registered childminder and single parent from Northern Ireland, said the £20 cut would leave her choosing between running a car or internet access. “I need both of those to be able to attend my job because I do school runs. I need to the internet for my child’s homework. I don’t really know where else I can cut.”