Citizens Advice has estimated that six million people in the UK have fallen behind on one or more household bills since the beginning of lockdown. And it has been low-income families with children who have been worst affected, seeing their wages fall fastest while their cost of living increased and being pushed into debt as a result.
I agree that this is an urgent problem demanding an effective solution. I note the Reset the Debt campaign’s proposal for a Jubilee Fund to provide grants to pay off and cancel unavoidable debt accrued by households during the lockdown. I hope the Government will give it proper consideration.
More widely, I believe more must be done to ensure the social security system is able to support low-income families struggling as a result of the pandemic and prevent them falling into debt. I find it extremely worrying that the Government is considering a cut to Universal Credit during a jobs crisis, when many families are struggling to make ends meet. The Government’ announcement that the increase to UC is only temporary and it is therefore due to end by April next year is a dangerous threat to people on the breadline.
I have also supported calls throughout the pandemic for a range of action on other social security measures to provide immediate support to people affected by coronavirus, including converting UC advances into grants instead of loans. There should also be an end to the five-week wait, the benefit cap should be suspended and the two-child limit in UC and tax credits should be abolished. In addition, the uplift to UC should be applied to legacy benefits like Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance.
From a broader perspective, I believe UC should be replaced with a system which offers a proper social security safety net and decent support to all.
I believe these steps would help to get the country’s poorest families through this crisis and prevent a devastating increase in household debt.