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TUC calls for basic level of Universal Credit to be raised to £260 week during coronavirus outbreak

07 April 2020

The TUC has called for an “emergency” boost to Universal Credit (UC) to help people get through the coronavirus outbreak. 

Without an urgent increase, the TUC says, unemployment support will be lower in real terms during the coronavirus outbreak than during the mass unemployment peaks of the 1980s and 1990s. 

In a new report, the union body highlights that unemployment support in the UK compares poorly with other European countries, where benefits are paid as a proportion of previous earnings - ranging from 60% in Germany to 90% in Denmark. 

The TUC says that in the long term the government should move towards a earnings-related system. But as this cannot be implemented swiftly, it calls for ministers to urgently raise the basic level of Universal Credit for the duration of the outbreak to 80% of the real living wage  – or £260 a week.  

The report also urges: 

  • an end to the five-week wait period for UC by replacing advances (loans) with emergency grants so claimants don’t build up debts waiting for payments 
  • speeding up the application process for UC by not requiring claimants to have a telephone interview  
  • raising Child Benefit payments.  
  • ensuring no-one loses out by removing the Benefit Cap. 

In addition, the TUC calls for:

  • sick pay to be raised from £94 a week to the equivalent of a week’s pay at the Real Living Wage – around £320 a week; and 
  • the ending of the minimum earnings threshold for sick pay that is currently preventing two million workers from qualifying for it.   

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:   

“If we don’t urgently boost Universal Credit many risk being plunged into poverty. That is not right.  

We need a social security system that can deal with the current pandemic and beyond. It’s time to start a national conversation about how we repair Britain’s safety net and help those who fall on hard times to bounce back.” 

Ken Butler DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Officer said:

“The TUC’s call for a  temporary increase in the weekly basic rate of UC is welcome and to be supported.

Following a decade of austerity policies our it our social safety net is broken. Nearly half of those in poverty, 6.9 million people, are from families in which someone has a disability.

From April 2017 the level of the ESA (and now also UC) paid to those with a limited capability for work was reduced by £30 a week. This scrapping of the “work related activity component “means that those affected are now paid a basic allowance of under £75 per week.

While the TUC righty calls for an increase to UC during the Coronavirus pandemic, what is needed is a permanent substantial rise in its payment in the long term.”

Download a full copy of the TUC’s report Fixing the Safety Net: Next steps in the economic response to coronavirus. 

See also Disability Benefit Consortium calls for emergency covid-19 benefit changes available at disabilityrightsuk.org