Government plans to cut Universal Credit by £20-a-week in October will impose the biggest overnight cut to the basic rate of social security since the foundation of the modern welfare state, according to analysis by the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).

This historic cut to the incomes of around 6 million families is scheduled in law for 6 October 2021 and will coincide with the final day of Conservative Party Conference.

As ministers and MPs go for their summer break, there are 5 facts about the impact of this cut which they should consider:

New analysis from JRF on the adequacy of working-age social security used a range of illustrative families to demonstrate how adequacy has changed for different households over time. In their illustrative family with three children, where one adult is working full-time, and the other is working part-time (living in Kernow West, a medium cost area):

Particularly worryingly, the analysis found that the planned cut would leave an illustrative single adult who loses their job, destitute – the most extreme form of poverty.  

The Poverty Alliance recently submitted a Freedom of Information request asking the Government to disclose any analysis that it has undertaken on the potential impact of the £20-a-week cut to Universal Credit. The Department for Work & Pensions deemed the disclosure of the information to not be in the public interest. This is in spite of the fact that:

It is important to note that around 2 million people claiming legacy benefits – Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance and Income support – have wrongly been excluded from this vital improvement in support. The £20 increase should be extended to people on these benefits which are mainly claimed by sick or disabled people and carers.

Katie Schmuecker, Deputy Director of Policy and Partnerships for the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation said:

“Universal Credit has been a lifeline that has helped keep millions of heads above water, but the new analysis should act as a stark warning of the immense, immediate and avoidable consequences of what amounts to the biggest overnight cut to the basic rate of social security since the Second World War.

“We all accept governing is about priorities but cutting the incomes of millions of the poorest families and sucking money out of the places in which they live, flies in the face of the Government’s mission to level up our country. This is not about generosity, it’s a matter of investing in families so they have the dignity of being able to meet their needs and supporting everyone in and out of work to escape poverty.

“The public deserve to know what the Government expects the impact of this cut to be. Ministers cannot hide the fact that they are ploughing ahead with a cut despite knowing it will be devastating for millions of families. They should publish their analysis on the impact of the cut as soon as possible.”


JRF Media Relations | | 01904 615958

Calum Masters | | 07976 435559

Notes to Editors

  1. How has JRF worked out ‘the biggest overnight cut to the basic rate of social security since the foundation of the modern welfare state’ statement? We have reviewed officially published data on rates of benefits stretching back to 1948 (when the Beveridge system was introduced), in particular, the main element of support for a single adult aged over 25 who has lost their job. It is possible that the cut this October could be the biggest cut ever, though we have not looked in detail at the period before 1948.
  2. JRF has published a new briefing on the adequacy of social security.
  3. Last week, JRF published new research showing the cut to Universal Credit would reduce the value of out-of-work benefits to their lowest recorded levels relative to what the public thinks is an acceptable income.
  4. Even prior to the pandemic, around 2.4 million people experienced destitution in 2019 (up 54% since 2017), including 550,000 children (up 52% since 2017) with inadequate benefit levels and debt deductions under Universal Credit cited as a leading cause. This highlights the need not to repeat the mistakes of the past by cutting social security again. (JRF, 2020)  
  5. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is an independent social change organisation working to solve UK poverty. For more information visit