THERE'S a pressing case for the UK government to retain the £20 increase to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit. This has been a lifeline to thousands of households across the region for people struggling to afford the basic essentials. Charities, teachers, health care professionals and foodbanks across the North East are backing the 'KeepThe lifeline' campaign are calling on central government to retain the £20 weekly lifeline in place beyond October 2021.

At the start of the pandemic, national government recognised that UC and WTC didn't pay enough to cover the cost of necessities. The extra £20 a week has helped millions of people to keep their heads above water. In Newcastle the impact of COVID-19 saw the number of residents on out of work benefits soar from 9,330 in 2019 to 15,610 in July 2020. Four out of 10 people in receipt of UC are in low-paid work.The planned to UC and WTC payments by £86 a month is a devastating blow for millions of low-income families who are already struggling to make ends meet.

The NE Child Poverty Commission notes that 4.3m children (31% across the UK) are living in poverty. Newcastle has 41% of youngsters living in poverty - a rise of 13% since 2015.Decades of research has shown a strong link between poverty and educational attainment.

The Trussell Trust's research found that the equivalent of more than a million people claiming UC say they are very likely to need to use a food bank if the cut goes ahead. People who are already trapped in difficult circumstances where their only option is to either feed their kids or heat their homes will be affected the most if this weekly £20 is withdrawn from UC

.Food banks across the city like the independent Kenton food bank and the Trussell Trust's West End  food bank are playing a pivotal role in mitigating the impact of food poverty and insecurity. Nationally the UK wide network of foodbanks distributed over 2.5m food parcels from 2020-21. During the same period the Newcastle food bank issued 19,000 food parcels to vulnerable cash-strapped residents. There's a serious danger that this number will rise sharply if the cut is implemented. This will plunge many into abject poverty and destitution and deepen educational inequalities.

There's substantial public support for retaining the £20 a week uplift to UC and WTC. The government need to maintain this payment and deliver a social security system that enables people to afford life's essentials like food. Government needs to think again.

By Stephen Lambert, a Newcastle City Councillor and Assistant Cabinet Member.

He writes in a personal capacity.

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