The government will start to axe a pandemic-inspired benefits boost today – and more than 20,000 people in Portsmouth will lose around £1,000 a year as a result.
Department for Work and Pensions figures show there were 21,210 people claiming Universal Credit in Portsmouth in July.
Of those, more than 10,000 were not in work.
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The government introduced a £20-per-week increase to the benefit last year to help those struggling during the Covid-19 pandemic – but now final payments containing the uplift will be paid out on October 13.
Community groups including food banks and food pantries have warned about an increase in need following the change, with some reporting a surge in demand even before the reduction.
The change represents a ‘huge unknown’ for affected residents and groups that they rely on, according to a long-standing volunteer at Portsmouth Food Bank.
Colin, who has volunteered for 12 years, said: ‘Before the pandemic, we got about 15 clients come in to us per session. Over the Covid-19 period, we have had about 45 come in each session.
‘We cover everyone from someone who has lost their wallet or it’s been stolen and they don’t have the money to buy food for the week, to someone living on the streets with nothing.’
Organisations like Portsmouth Food Bank, Hive, the Roberts Centre, and churches across the city have worked through the pandemic to support those in need.
But now they may face increasing demand, as four in 10 households on Universal Credit could see a 13 per cent rise in their energy bills just as they lose the uplift, according to Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan.
The city MP said: ‘The government is pulling out the rug for working families across Portsmouth just at the moment when Tory failure has led to their cost of living going up.
‘As the Prime Minister stood up to deliver his speech at the champagne bubble of Tory party conference, millions of working families across the country were weighing up the choice between eating or heating this week.’
Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt, who is using proceeds from her recent book to fund three new food pantries in the north of the city, said additional community support had to be ensured.
She said: ‘There is a £500m household support fund which will be administered by councils, and we have to ensure we have additional community support – such as pantries and assistance with household costs. Giving people that support is not incompatible with getting people into work and into better paid work. It is complementary to it.’
A government spokesperson said the government had ‘always been clear’ that the uplift to Universal Credit and the furlough scheme were temporary.
He said: ‘They were designed to help claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic, and they have done so.’
The Hive – 023 9261 6709
The Roberts Centre – 023 9229 6919 / [email protected]
North End Pantry – 023 9265 3635
Citizens Advice Portsmouth – 023 9400 6600