Calls for the prime minister to reverse cuts that left low income families struggling on £20 less a week, have been back by East Devon District councillors. The below letter has been sent to Whitehall by the authority’s top boss – chief executive Mark Williams – on behalf of the authority’s councillors.

Dear Prime Minister and Chancellor,

At a meeting of my Council that took place on the 20th October my Councillors debated and agreed the following motion.

Government cuts in financial support to the most vulnerable

In East Devon, the latest figures presented to Councillors on the total number of households on Universal Credit across the District stands at 2,320 (Source: ‘Employment and skills situation post September ending of furlough’, Poverty Working Panel, 20th September 2021).

Analysis from the TUC earlier this year found that the South West region has the highest proportion of people in work negatively affected by the Universal Credit £20 a week cut in the UK.

In total, four in ten Universal Credit claimants in our region are already in work. Recent analysis from the ONS suggests that the reason for so many people in work having to claim Universal Credit is due to a combination of low wages, seasonal work and high housing costs. House prices in tourist hotspots such as Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton, Sidmouth and Seaton are rising significantly and becoming increasingly out of reach for the low paid.

To compound the above factors, energy costs are rising this winter, with people with typical household levels of energy use seeing their bills increase by £139 to £1,277 a year. This will particularly affect families.

There is also the planned increase in National Insurance to pay for social care, and an expected increase in food prices, which will increase poverty. Taken together, these factors represent a cliff edge with people on low wages in our District at higher risk of destitution than any time in recent memory. The £20 a week Universal Credit uplift had added up to a total of just over

£1,000 a year for people on low incomes. Reinstating this uplift will prevent the low-waged from falling into serious financial hardship and for those who are living in the private-rented sector, will prevent some evictions. Although it is argued that the cut immediately saves the Treasury around £6bn-ayear in immediate costs, these savings are likely to disappear and become higher costs when Councils are forced to step in and spend large sums of money housing destitute people in hotels and B&Bs at exorbitant cost to the local ratepayer as we accord with our statutory duties to relieve homelessness. The effect being made homeless has on mental and physical health will also place a further burden on the NHS.

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.

This Council will therefore:

•             Ensure we are doing all we can to work with our partners to more visibly promote take up of Schemes such as Kickstart, and are actively signposting local businesses to two new Devon programmes, ‘SMART SKILLS’ and ‘Skills Support for the Workforce’, in order to support those at risk of financial difficulties by offering solutions to local employers, and including those aged 16 - 24 on Universal Credit, to gain employment for a minimum of 6 months

•             Request an urgent report to a forthcoming Cabinet meeting setting out potential options for directing additional resources into the Anti-Poverty Strategy to support the District in helping the most vulnerable residents this winter, in the light of unexpected rising living costs.

•             Write to the Chancellor and Prime Minister (copying in the District MPs) calling for the government to re-introduce this payment as a matter of urgency to the thousands of individuals, families and their children in East Devon that will be adversely affected by this cut in financial support to the most vulnerable.

I shall be grateful if the views of my Council could be taken into consideration and that an urgent reassessment of the decision to reduce the £20 uplift be undertaken and that the decision be reversed.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Williams

Chief Executive