Universal Credit: Gordon Brown warns of £30m ‘benefit theft’ hitting hard in Fife

The axe falls on the £20 Universal Credit top up next month - and that cut will plunge tens of thousands of families deeper into poverty.

By Allan Crow
Friday, 1st October 2021, 11:54 am

The Government’s decision to end the extra payment introduced to help people through the pandemic will come with a human cost that could be devastating.

Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister and MP for Kirkcaldy, has warned that Fife will be among the region’s hardest hit as it bears the brunt of a £30m benefit theft” affecting 33,000 families.

The cut comes as they face rising fuel and food bills, leading the politician to warn of a “perfect storm” heading this way as families face the onset of winter.

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33,000 Fife families will be plunged further into poverty when the top-up payment ends next month.

So, when the top-up is turned off what really happens to people mired in poverty where every single penny counts?

Mr Brown is in no doubt.

More people will cling to the lifelines offered by charity and frontline community groups such as Kirkcaldy Foodbank and the Cottage Centre - and more lives will be damaged.

He said; “The £20 a week is the difference between a breakfast and starting the day hungry, and between school clothes and children going ill-clad and ill-equipped.

Gordon Brown (Pic: George McLuskie)

“Fuel poverty will force a choice between heating and eating.”

Those options sit in stark contrast to the suggestion by Therese Coffey, Work and Pensions Secretary that millions set to lose the uplift payment could simply work two hours extra a week to make up the difference - a response that sparked anger and beggared belief as community groups which run food bank, baby banks .clothes banks, bedding banks and hygiene banks all brace themselves for a surge in the numbers seeking support.

Mr Brown said: “For 75 years the British welfare state has provided the safety net for families in dire need but, after October 6, the last line of support for families will not be the welfare state but food banks.

“Britain's poor can no longer rely on social security for the minimum they need to prevent their descent into extreme poverty.

What happens to families when the top-up is turned off?

“Their lifeline is now charity. “

Mr Brown warned that Fife will be among the hardest hit regions as the cut takes effect.

A report on the poverty crisis produced by his office suggested £30m will be wiped from benefits - he branded it “benefits theft’ - and 33,000 families will be impacted.

Across the UK, six million families will be hit, losing £1000 each per year.

Kirkcaldy Foodbank

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“Fife is hit hard because we have high pockets of child poverty and greater dependence on benefits than in other parts of the country outside Glasgow.,” he said.

“As energy and food prices go up and the cost of Christmas rises because of huge supply chain bottlenecks causing transport costs to rise, families are going to be hit even harder in the next month."

"Benefits are being cut by £20 a week, but just because it is October families do not need less to make ends meet than in September when they had £20 more.”

“Our report shows that in some communities one child in every two is in poverty with too many going to school ill-clad or hungry

“Charities, already under pressure, will have to do more and local businesses will be asked to step up their charitable work - but they are under greater pressure than ever before as poverty rises.”

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

And the timing of the cut has rankled with many.

Mr Brown said lives and livelihoods were hanging in the balance as the world “dangled at the edge of this economic precipice.”

He described the move as “more morally indefensible than anything I have ever witnessed in politics.”

Mr Brown added: “Never have I see a Government act so callously and with so little concern for the consequences in human suffering.”

Already almost 50% of families with three or more children are below the poverty line as are nearly 70% of the unemployed - and this cut he warned, will further increase child poverty by 200,000 and overall family poverty 500,000.

Mr Brown said the welfare state is no longer even attempting to discharge its promise made in the Beverage Report of 1942 to abolish the five evils of squalor, want, disease, ignorance and idleness.

“No longer will social security, as was promised then, take the fear - and the shame - out of need.” he said. “I can tell Ministers from my experience that hope is being destroyed in the places they never deign to visit and there is desperation in the faces they never see.

“Twenty years ago we promised we would abolish child poverty in a generation .

“Now all we can do is to offer charity to prevent destitution”He cited the work and leadership of Manchester United footballer. Marcus Rashford as a way ahead.

The England star has campaigned against homelessness and child hunger, and used his voice to challenge - and change - Government policy.

Mr Brown recently arranged for Rashford to speak directly with local youngsters via a Zoom link.

He said: “Marcus spoke for millions when he said that his community had little in material goods but what they lacked in money they had in compassion for each other.

“And that’s what they will now have to rely on: the poor having to come to the aid of the poorest. – and all people of conscience, with a shred of decency, from local businesses to national charities. stepping up to fill the gap in empathy and moral fibre that this Government has wilfully opened up.”

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