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SCARED TO DEATH: Fears over Universal Credit and end to furlough

SCARED TO DEATH: Fears over Universal Credit and end to furlough

Cllr Norma Stephenson, Labour member for Hardwick and Salters Lane, Image: Teesside Live/Katie Lunn

An end to furlough and a looming cut to Universal Credit has left a Teesside councillor “scared to death” over impacts to come.

A £20-a-week uplift in Universal Credit will come to an end next week with the Government’s furlough scheme due to stop on Thursday.

But Hardwick councillor Norma Stephenson feared a “perfect storm” from the changes at Stockton Council meeting on Tuesday.

The Labour member said: “It’s everything at once.

“It’s the end of furlough, stopping of Universal Credit, and then we talk about food banks – but we can’t get drivers to get food to the shops.

“It scares me to death.”

Cllr Stephenson also worried the changes were affecting working people – and feared more unemployment once the furlough scheme stopped.

“It scares the life out of me and should out of everyone else as well,” she added.

The index of multiple deprivation shows Hardwick and Salters Lane is the third most deprived ward in the borough – with an above average number of working age residents claiming Universal Credit.

Last month, a child poverty probe by a Stockton select committee heard how single people under 25 would be hit hardest by the end to the temporary £20 uplift.

Rising gas and energy prices also prompted concern about how those struggling would cope.

Government officials say they’ve spent more than £9bn on the Universal Credit uplift – adding the £20-a-week rise was “always temporary” and designed to help claimants through the shock and disruption of the early part of the pandemic.

A government spokesman added: “Universal Credit will continue to provide vital support for those both in and out of work and it’s right that the Government should focus on our “Plan for Jobs”, supporting people back into work and supporting those already employed to progress and earn more.”

The furlough scheme, which has seen the government pay towards the wages of people, will end this week.

It paid 80% of the wages at first, but in August and September it paid 60% – with employers paying 20%.

Estimates from the Office for Budget Responsibility have calculated its cost at around £66bn.

Cllr Carol Clark told the scrutiny committee the government “wasn’t taking any notice” of calls from councils and charities to retain the £20-a-week benefit uplift.

But Conervative Cllr Niall Innes said it would be interesting to understand the positive impact of the £118m the Government had given Stockton Council in the past 18 months – and how the money was supporting families.

Billingham councillor Barry Woodhouse rounded off by pointing to poverty statistics from before the pandemic.

Figures from the North East Child Poverty Commission showed more than a third of youngsters (35.3%) were living in poverty in the borough after housing costs in 2019/20.

“It’s an absolute disgrace that in 2021 we probably have more than 40% of children in this borough living in abject poverty,” added Cllr Woodhouse.

“We do need billions put in. There should have been billions put in years ago and they’re taking billions out now.

“It’s an absolute disgrace.”


Words: Alex Metcalfe, Local Demcoracy Reporter

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