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Government has been told ‘inadequate sticking plasters are no substitute for proper social security system’

THE government was accused of an “11th-hour attempt to save face” today by announcing a £500 million fund for vulnerable families while pushing ahead with universal credit cuts. 

The Department for Work and Pension’s new household support fund is “a fraction of what’s needed,” charities warned, while Labour argued that “inadequate sticking plasters” were no substitute for a proper social security system.

Made available to councils in England from yesterday, the cash will be used to provide small grants to help communities meet daily needs such as food, clothing and utilities “through the last stages of our recovery” from the Covid-19 pandemic, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said.

But it comes as the £20-a-week universal credit uplift, introduced early in the crisis, is due to be phased out from next week.

Trade unions, charities, economic think tanks and MPs of all parties have condemned the move to cut the uplift, warning that the reduction will hit poorer people the hardest as the cost of living continues to soar and new tax rises are introduced.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s deputy director Helen Barnard said the last-minute introduction of the fund “does not come close to meeting the scale of the challenge facing millions of families on low incomes.

“By admitting that families will need to apply for emergency grants to meet the cost of basics like food and heating through winter, it’s clear the Chancellor [Rishi Sunak] knows the damage the cut will cause.”

Action for Children’s Imran Hussain said the fund was an admission that the social security safety net does not meet basic living needs, while Child Poverty Action Group chief executive Alison Garnham stressed now is not the time for “stop gap measures.

“Grants offer no stability to millions of struggling households and will leave far too many out of pocket when the cut hits,” she added. 

Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds blasted the Tories for creating a “perfect storm this winter.”  

He said: “Temporary and inadequate sticking plasters are no substitute for a proper social security system that offers security to families in hard times.

“The government must learn the lessons of the pandemic, cancel their cut to [universal credit] and use our recovery to better prepare this country for the challenges of the future.”

Parliamentary reporter @TrinderMatt

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