DWP Tories refuse to say if £20 Universal Credit rise for millions will continueby Dan Bloom, https://www.facebook.com/mirrordanbloom
Tory ministers have failed to confirm if a £20-a-week rise in Universal Credit for millions of people will continue.
More money was pumped into the six-in-one benefit in April to make it easier for claimants to cope with coronavirus.
But the rise was only scheduled for one year - prompting fears more than half a million people could be plunged into "deep poverty" when it ends in April 2021.
MPs and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) have urged the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to make the rise permanent.
But ministers today refused to confirm if it will be extended beyond next April.
Instead they said MPs must wait until the next 'fiscal event' such as a Budget.
DWP minister Will Quince said: "The increase has been introduced for an initial period of one year as part of the government's measures to assist with the financial consequences of Covid-19.
"Future decisions about benefit rates will be made at the appropriate fiscal event."
The JRF has warned lowering Universal Credit back to where it was - a cut of £1,040 a year - could plunge thousands of families into financial peril.
The thin tank said 700,000 are likely to be pulled into poverty in the spring unless action is taken.
Meanwhile ministers have refused to raise 'legacy' benefits like sickness payment ESA to the same rate as UC.
DWP officials say coronavirus policies are under "constant review".
It came after official figures revealed just 300 of the 4,500 new Jobcentre Work Coaches - promised "by October" - were in post as of last week.
Shadow employment minister Seema Malhotra said: "Can the Secretary of State tell this House what is going on and why since April has she been so slow to act?"
But Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey insisted she was "on track" to meet the 4,500 target.
DWP ministers have revised the wording of their target, from "by October" to "by 31 October". A department official insisted the timescale had not changed.
Labour accused Ms Coffey of "lacking compassion" after she defended a policy that cuts off the benefits of people whose relatives die of Covid-19.
People receive a £60,000 lump sum if their NHS or social care worker relative dies after contracting coronavirus.
But for families on benefits, that will mean their day-to-day welfare payments are stopped because the DWP counts them as having too many assets in the bank.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds warned they are "stripped of their benefits".
Ms Coffey replied: "Well (Mr Reynolds) will be aware that when people have a substantial amount of money, I recognise the route he's just indicated on how they may receive that, that usually takes them over the £16,000 threshold in terms of support through the welfare system.
"He specifically refers to some other programmes where it is absolutely acknowledged that there has been a complete failure within the Government in that regard.
"This is not the case, I would suggest to (Mr Reynolds), regarding the NHS, but I'm sure as the NHS is a separate employer to the Government that they will continue to work with their employees and the relatives of people who have sadly died."
Mr Reynolds replied: "I have to say I find that answer lacking in reason and lacking in compassion."
The Labour frontbencher had earlier told Ms Coffey: "It is a tragic consequence of the pandemic that some families of NHS key workers have lost their loved ones to Covid-19 after they contracted the virus whilst serving on the front line.
"It is absolutely right that they receive compensation for this. But can I ask the Secretary of State to justify the news that low paid relatives who receive this compensation payment are to be stripped of their benefits?
"Now this isn't the case with comparable payments such as the Grenfell and Windrush compensation schemes, so why are NHS families being treated in this way?"