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Friday, September 10, 2021

Universal credit cut will hit sickest areas the hardest

The Guardian reports on research by the Health Foundation, which has found that scrapping the £1,000-a-year boost to universal credit next month will trigger mental illness and poorer health for thousands of people, and hit the sickest areas of the UK hardest.

They also reveal that the UK Government has carried out no formal impact assessment of the dropping of the £20-a-week UC increase because it represents a return to “business as usual”:

The Health Foundation charity said areas such as Blackpool, Hartlepool, Wolverhampton, Peterborough and parts of east London – already suffering some of the worst health outcomes – would be most affected by the income cut.

It said the removal of such a vital chunk of income would contribute to rising mental ill health at a time when many families are already dealing with the stress of debts, and face the prospect of soaring energy and food prices.

More than 50 Conservative MPs, six former work and pensions secretaries and an army of charities and anti-poverty campaigners have urged Downing Street to think again about the policy, which will cost about 6 million hard-pressed families £1,502 a year. Marcus Rashford, the footballer and anti-poverty campaigner, has also called for the cut to be scrapped.


The foundation said areas with a high proportion of UC recipients were already likely to have significantly worse health. In Blackpool for example, where average healthy life expectancy for men and women is just 55.2 years, the average UC cut per head is £283.

This contrasts with the home counties authority of Wokingham in Berkshire, where average healthy life expectancy for men and women is 71.2 years, and the average loss per head as a result of the UC cut would be £76.

Jo Bibby, director of health at the Health Foundation, said: “A cut to universal credit would be a step backwards and an indication that the government has not learned from mistakes of the recovery from the financial crisis. The pandemic is not yet over and if we are to avoid long-term scars, it is vital that we maintain this support on which so many families rely.”

The link between mental ill-health and UC has been established in a number of academic studies. A Liverpool University study published in the Lancet in 2020 found that “stressors” such as the built-in five-week wait for a first payment led to an increase in “psychological stress”.

A 2018 study by researchers at Newcastle and Teesside universities found that the stress of coping with the new benefits system had so profoundly affected claimants’ mental health that some considered suicide, leading experts to suggest the benefit be regarded as a serious threat to public health.

More than 700,000 people will be pushed into poverty by the removal of the uplift, research by Fabian Society thinktank found earlier this year. Worst hit would be working families, many with children, which would account for nearly two-thirds of those falling below the breadline.

Surely it is time for a rethink on this cut?
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