Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs has again spoken out against the Government’s planned cut to Universal Credit (UC), as new figures reveal the huge increase in the number of Tower Hamlets households claiming UC during the pandemic.

Since the start of the pandemic, the number of households on universal credit in Bethnal Green and Bow increased by 137%, and in Poplar and Limehouse the number increased by 119%, with over 10,000 more households in each constituency claiming universal credit in February 2021 compared to February 2020.

Overall across Tower Hamlets, the number of households on Universal Credit has increased by 127%, from 16,526 households in February 2020 to 37,566 households in February 2021.

The Government announced a £20 per week increase in Universal Credit at the onset of the Coronavirus crisis. Following pressure from the Labour Party and other organisations, the Chancellor announced in March that there would be a 6-month extension to the uplift until the end of September 2021, however it has since been confirmed that the planned cut to universal credit will go ahead later this year.

In September 2020, analysis by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) found that the withdrawal of the uplift will risk bringing 700,000 more people, including 300,000 more children into poverty.  It could also bring 500,000 more people into deep poverty (classified as being more than 50% below the poverty line). Combined with the cut to Child Working Tax Credit, it will impact 6.2million families according to JRF.

Tower Hamlets Council funds a range of tackling poverty measures, including providing a Council Tax Reduction Scheme with council tax reductions of up to and including 100% depending on circumstances – over 31,000 receive a discount as a result, and of these, nearly 21,000 don’t have to pay a single penny of council tax. The council also funds holiday hunger programmes and provides universal free school meals (FSM) to all primary school pupils, going significantly beyond the Government-funded FSM programme which only funds FSM for some children.

John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said: “It is shameful that the Government is taking £1000 from families across Tower Hamlets from the end of September.

“Universal Credit is a real lifeline to many in Tower Hamlets, and we’re going to keep lobbying on this on behalf of families in the borough. The Chancellor must see sense and cancel the cut.”

Councillor Mufeedah Bustin, Cabinet Member leading on Tackling Poverty, said: “The Government’s planned cut to universal credit will hit the poorest in our community and damage our economic recovery.

“We do a huge amount of work to tackle poverty in Tower Hamlets, but the Government taking £1000 from families is really going to negate the help we provide. We’re going to keep fighting the Government until they cancel the cut and make the uplift permanent.”

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