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Universal Credit cut: Bishop's Stortford MP Julie Marson admits it will put pressure on town's food bank

Bishop's Stortford's MP admits the Government's decision to cut Universal Credit will put pressure on the town's food bank.

Conservative Julie Marson said she had "shared her concerns" with ministers, but, ultimately, she backed her party's line that well-paid work was the best route out of poverty for those reliant on the benefit.

Citizens Advice East Herts has written to Mrs Marson warning of the impact on the one in 11 people in the district who will be affected by the loss of £20 a week.

Julie Marson visits Bishop's Stortford Food Bank
Julie Marson visits Bishop's Stortford Food Bank

The charity told her 38% of local people set to see their benefits drop are families with children and 46% are already in work.

The £20 weekly uplift was introduced in March 2020 at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, but Chancellor Rishi Sunak stressed it "was always intended to be a temporary measure" and signalled its removal this October.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said taking the payments away was "simply wrong in principle" and some senior Conservatives have criticised the move.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak

Universal Credit is claimed by more than 5.5 million households in the UK. It was introduced to replace six benefits and merge them into one payment for working-age people.

Mrs Marson admitted: "I know how important the £20 Universal Credit uplift has been to people in our community. I've spoken to ministers about the decision and shared my concerns with them, including the likely impact on our food bank, which I visited recently to see the brilliant work they do with local people in need.

"However, like the furlough scheme, support for the self-employed, grants and business loan schemes, the £20-per-week uplift to Universal Credit was only ever intended as a temporary measure to help get people through the economic shock of the pandemic, and by the end of September, over £9 billion will have been spent on the uplift.

"We know that the best route out of poverty is through well-paid work, so I do welcome the Government's Plan for Jobs, which will support people to learn new skills and increase their hours or find new work. I've been working hard with local partners to ensure we have good employment and skills opportunities in our area and am looking at other ways in which we can support people in need locally."

Laura Hyde, chief officer of Citizens Advice East Herts
Laura Hyde, chief officer of Citizens Advice East Herts

However, Laura Hyde, Citizens Advice East Herts' chief officer, added: "Every day, our advisers see the difference the increase to Universal Credit has made to families. It's what has helped them keep their heads above water.

"Without that extra money, we fear we'll see more people coming to us in debt, unable to pay their bills or turning to food banks because they can't afford the essentials. As we look to rebuild from Covid, the Government must invest in the benefits system and keep this vital lifeline."

At her branch, staff and volunteers have helped 1,415 people with Universal Credit since March 2020. Front-line advisers cited cases where the payment has been critical, such as a support worker who had to take time off work after catching coronavirus, which exacerbated existing health conditions. They feared they would fall into debt without the extra £20 a week.

MP Julie Marson talks to Bishop's Stortford Food Bank trustees chairman Bill Macdonald
MP Julie Marson talks to Bishop's Stortford Food Bank trustees chairman Bill Macdonald

The uplift was also key for a single parent able to pay for after-school childcare costs while they worked. It enabled them to keep their job and pay essential bills.

The charity feared a cut to the benefit this autumn – as energy bills rise with the colder weather – will see many struggle, particularly new claimants unaware of the looming shortfall.

One of the charity's volunteers said: "That extra money makes the difference between choosing to put the heating on or eating a decent meal for the people we support. Many have lost jobs through no fault of their own and are still struggling to find work. The increase of £20 a week is absolutely essential for them to budget each month."

Like Citizens Advice, Bishop's Stortford Food Bank, based at the Methodist Church in South Street, is already gearing up for a surge in demand for its help as the Universal Credit cut kicks in and furlough payments end.

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