Therese Coffey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, sparked fury by claiming families could work ‘two hours extra’ each week to make up for the cut – when in reality it’s at least six hours
The Tory welfare chief plans to encourage hard-up Brits to work longer hours to make up for her £20-a-week benefit cut.
Therese Coffey sparked fury after claiming Universal Credit claimants could make up for the cut by working “about two hours extra”.
The Work and Pensions Secretary told BBC Breakfast: “£20 a week is about two hours’ extra work every week.
“We’ll be seeing what we can do to help people perhaps secure those extra hours, but ideally also make sure they’re in a place to get better-paid jobs as well.”
Asked if she was “entirely happy” with the cut, she replied: “Yes”.
Ms Coffey’s comments were factually incorrect – as claimants would need more than six hours’ extra work to make up for the cut.
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Firstly, the minimum wage for over-23s is £8.91 not £10.
Secondly, every £1 workers earn while on Universal Credit triggers a 63p reduction in their benefits, if they are earning more than a £293-a-month threshold.
That means many minimum-wage claimants only gain £3.30 for each extra hour they work – before any National Insurance, Income Tax and pension contributions are deducted.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner blasted Ms Coffey, saying: “This is a lie and the Work and Pensions Secretary either knows she’s lying or shouldn’t be in the job.
“An additional £20 for a UC claimant isn’t 2 hours’ work, that’s not how the taper works. An extra £20 would require £50+ worth of hours, that is how the UC system works.”
Rob Holdsworth of the Resolution Foundation said: “I wouldn’t expect the general public to understand taper rates in the benefit system, but I’d expect the Minister in charge of them to!”
A flood of Twitter users pointed out the minister’s error, with one, Howard Smith, saying: “It doesn’t work like that. For those extra hours you lose a chunk of your UC. Do you not know or do you not care.”
Some 2.3million of Britain’s 5.9million UC claimants (40%) already have a job, but earn so little they qualify for the benefit.
It comes as ministers prepare to end a £20-a-week “uplift” that was brought in due to Covid in April 2021.
The move is opposed by six former Tory welfare chiefs, charities, landlords, MPs, unions, debt groups and mortgage lenders.
Yet Boris Johnson is pressing ahead. Despite 40% of claimants having a job, the PM has said: “My strong preference, and I believe this is the instinct of most people in this country, is for people to see their wages rise through their efforts – rather than from taxation of other people put into their pay packets, rather than welfare.”
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says it has still not produced a formal impact assessment of the cut.
But a government official told the Financial Times: “The internal modelling of ending the UC uplift is catastrophic.
“Homelessness and poverty are likely to rise, and food banks usage will soar. It could be the real disaster of the autumn.”
The £86 a month being cut from UC far outstrips the National Insurance rise Boris Johnson announced this week to fund social care.
By comparison, that rise in NI will cost £30k earners £255 a year, and less for lower earners.
But even that cut could lead to family breakdown, an internal assessment found.
Analysis by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) warned: “There may be an impact on family formation, stability or breakdown as individuals, who are currently just about managing financially, will see their disposable income reduce.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said: “I have not seen that report.”
Pressed about asking people to work longer due to the UC cut, Ms Coffey said: “It’s a temporary uplift recognising the reason that it was introduced is coming to an end.”
She also said the nation is “seeing record numbers of vacancies”.
The £20 increase will be phased out between October 13 and November 12, depending on individual claimants’ payment dates.
All UC claimants will lose £1,040 a year if Prime Minister Boris Johnson goes ahead with the cut as planned.
Ms Coffey Sky News the uplift “was a temporary measure”, adding: “It was an element there to protect people, particularly those initially coming into benefits for the first time.”
She stressed the need to “accelerate our plan for jobs” and asked if she was “entirely happy” with it, replied: “Yes.”
But Shadow Child Poverty Secretary Wes Streeting tweeted: “ENTIRELY HAPPY?!
“Low paid workers in our country will lose £20 a week. Including the 10% increase in National Insurance they will lose c. £1,300 a year.
“For these working families, this will HURT. More children will end up in poverty. Yet Therese Coffey is ‘entirely happy’.”