Good morning. Only seven days ago Boris Johnson ordered his MPs to abstain in a Commons vote on a Labour motion saying the £20-per-week uplift in universal credit, introduced as a temporary measure during lockdown, should be extended beyond March. In the debate Will Quince, the welfare minister who was speaking for the government, said that while the government was not ruling out preserving the uplift in some way, the government had to wait for “more clarity on the national economic and social picture” before it could take a decision.
A week later, it seems the government now has all the clarity it needs, because Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, has been giving interviews this morning and she hoped a decision would be announced shortly on extending support for people who have been receiving the £20 per week.
On the Today programme Coffey said that universal credit over the last year had been “a lifeline to people who may have never been on benefits ever before” and that she had been “really pleased” about the help that it had been able to offer.
Asked if she was “absolutely clear” that the kind of support that was currently in place, like the £20-per-week uplift or something similar, would remain for the rest of the year, she replied:
I’m in active discussion with the chancellor, and, of course with the prime minister, about how we continue to make sure we support families during this difficult time. We’ve done a variety of things as a government – whether it’s been furlough, self-employed, the element for people who aren’t working or have had significantly reduced hours and are on universal credit as well – and I can assure you this is under very active consideration.
Originally the government said it would wait until the budget in March before announcing whether the £20-per-week uplift would continue, or what might replace it. But Coffey told BBC News that she hoped a decision would now be announced “shortly”. She said:
I can assure you that we are in active consideration of the options on how to best support people during this time and I hope we will be able to come to a decision soon. We are working very closely with the Treasury so that we can make sure that we have the best decision which I hope the prime minister will be able to announce shortly.
Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, has been reluctant to extend the uplift because it costs around £6bn a year and he does not want that to become a permanent, annual addition to the welfare budget. Yesterday the Sunday Telegraph reported that his alternative proposal is for a universal credit claimants to get a one-off payment of £1,000 instead (which would be worth about the same amount as the uplift over the course of the year, but that would not amount to a permanent increase). “One of the motivations of the Treasury is they think people will go out and spend it and help stimulate the economy,” a government source told the Sunday Telegraph.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.30am: The ONS publishes a report on Covid deaths by occupation.
12pm: Downing Street is expected to hold its daily lobby briefing.
12.15pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, is expected to hold a coronavirus briefing.
12.15pm: The Welsh government holds its coronavirus briefing.
2.30pm: Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, takes questions in the Commons.
Politics Live is now doubling up as the UK coronavirus live blog and, given the way the Covid crisis eclipses everything, this will continue for the foreseeable future. But we will be covering non-Covid political stories too, and when they seem more important or more interesting, they will take precedence.
Here is our global coronavirus live blog.
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