East Devon councillors call on Prime Minister to reverse ‘deplorable’ £20-a-week Universal Credit cut

East Devon District Council (EDDC) has called on the Prime Minister to reverse cuts to Universal Credit that have left low-income families struggling on £20 less a week.

Representatives joined forces to back a cross-party motion at the authority’s October meeting.

Members want a Whitehall U-turn ‘as a matter of urgency to the thousands of individuals, families and their children…adversely affected by this cut in financial support to the most vulnerable’.

Some 2,320 households are on Universal Credit across the district, according to the latest figures.

EDDC chief executive Mark Williams has now written to Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

He has told them: “Our council recognises the significant impact on residents, particularly children and young people, of the deplorable decision of the Government to remove the uplift provision for those on Universal Credit that will push many struggling families further into poverty.”

The uplift was introduced in March 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank, making it permanent would cost taxpayers around £6billion a year.

Exmouth Halsdon representative Councillor Paul Millar, who introduced the motion, told a meeting on October 20: “With rising energy prices somewhat out of the Government’s control, this is the one lever government can pull to help the situation.

“This particularly affects residents in our area due to the gulf between wages and rents and house prices in our district.

“Some cynics may argue this letter will achieve absolutely nothing and that may well be the case, but I think we have a duty to our residents to say we are doing all we can to try to help this situation and let them know that we are against this ill-timed cut.”

Fellow ward member Cllr Megan Armstrong, who chairs the authority’s Poverty Working Panel, added: “If every council in the country writes to the chancellor and Prime Minister in the same vein we might actually achieve something.”

Seaton councillor Jack Rowland, portfolio holder for finance, branded  the cutback as ‘pernicious’.

Exmouth Withycombe Raleigh representative Cllr Steve Gazzard added: “There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that there is a crisis looming at this present time.

“We all know people in our own villages and towns that are absolutely struggling.”

He said he worried struggling families will ‘be put through hell’ trying to balance bills over Christmas.

In passing the motion, councillors also agreed to promote employment programmes and requested its cabinet look at finding additional resources for its anti-poverty strategy.

However, Dunkeswell and Otterhead ward member Cllr Colin Brown, leader of EDDC’s Conservative group, criticised the move.

He pointed to the Government’s launch of the Household Support Fund, a £500 million kitty for local authorities to help people pay for food, clothing, and utilities.

Devon County Council has. received £5million pounds from the fund.

Cllr Brown said: “In view of the fact that this household support fund has now been made available, I cannot agree to writing to the Government asking for temporary measures to be extended as this new support fund will be available on a basis of those who are actually in need.”

The motion was passed despite most Conservative group members abstaining from the vote.

Honiton St Michael’s representative Cllr Mike Allen defied his party to support of the motion.

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