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Millions heading for poverty unless benefits are urgently boosted, TUC warns

MILLIONS are heading for poverty and deprivation as the coronavirus crisis throws them onto the mercy of a reviled and inadequate benefits system, a damning report reveals today.

A lack of financial support will have a disastrous effect on those driven out of work as companies dump employees because of the crisis – which could last at least six months, the report by the Trade Union Congress (TUC) found.

Since record unemployment levels of the 1980s and 1990s, financial support for jobless workers has been systematically attacked and reduced, the report said, adding that Britain now has one of the worst levels of assistance in Europe for the vulnerable and others in need.

The report calls for an immediate, emergency increase in benefits – including universal credit (UC) and unemployment support – to 80 per cent of the Real Living Wage, guaranteeing a weekly income of £260.

Unemployment pay as a proportion of average earnings has fallen from 25 per cent in 1984 to just 18.5 per cent now, the report highlights.

Germany and Denmark respectively pay 60 per cent and 90 per cent of previous earnings to jobless people. 

The report says work must start on “repairing the UK’s safety net” which is leaving 14 million people living in poverty.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “People who lose their jobs must get the support they need to make ends meet and to get back on their feet.  

“If we don’t urgently boost UC many risk being plunged into poverty. That is not right. 

“We need a social security system that can deal with the current pandemic and beyond.” 

The report won immediate backing from unions and groups which campaign for vulnerable people, including the elderly.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “With close to a million new applicants in less than a week UC — already a failure on so many counts, including forcing many into absolute poverty — is not fit for purpose and should be scrapped.

“Until that can be done, and given the unprecedented crisis we currently face, immediate steps must be taken as highlighted in this excellent report to remove the five-week waiting time and ensure money is immediately available to those who need it, not as loans but as direct payments.

“The demand for an immediate rise to £260 a week is the right one, it’s time for a lasting change to our benefits scheme that brings dignity to all.”

National Pensioners’ Convention (NPC)’s Jan Shortt said: “What the TUC are asking for is right and proper.

“Any self-respecting government would want to make sure that its citizens are able to do more than just survive through these difficult times.

“Thresholds exist for a reason, to curtail access to what should be a right, particularly for those 14 million living in poverty, two million of whom are the poorest pensioners.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said UC payments will rise by up to £1,040 a year to support people during the crisis.

“This government is committed to doing whatever it takes to help those affected by Covid-19 and has announced over £6.5 billion of additional measures through the welfare system,” he said.

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