A CONSERVATIVE-led local authority is to consider writing to Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson to demand the £20 increase to Universal Credit introduced in response to the pandemic is made permanent.

A full meeting of Darlington Borough Council next week will see a notice of motion lodged by Labour councillors highlighting how the Tory Government policy introduced last March had had “a positive effect on the lives of thousands of local claimants”.

The debate follows Chancellor Rishi Sunak reportedly warning that the £6bn cost of the benefit increase – worth £1,040 a year to families – is equivalent to a 5p rise in fuel duty. Universal Credit was raised for the 2020/21 financial year to help with the impact of coronavirus. Ministers have said the extra funds were meant to be “temporarily”.

The Labour councillors’ motion also calls for the £20 uplift to be extended to those on legacy benefits, such as child tax credit, housing benefit and income support and for the authority to work with other local government organisations to pressure the Government.

The motion highlights how the local economy has benefited from the increase in benefit levels as claimants spend their money locally and support local businesses and jobs.

Councillor Cyndi Hughes, who is seconding the motion, said almost 4,000 people in Darlington currently claiming Universal Credit would be hit hard if the Government cuts the £20 weekly uplift that been in place since the start of the Covid crisis.

She said: “The Government recognised then that our social security system was not providing enough to keep families afloat and did the right thing by implementing a £20-per-week uplift to Universal Credit for a year.

“The planned cut to the uplift will plunge many more families with children in Darlington into poverty. I am hopeful councillors from all political parties in Darlington will support our call for the £20 weekly uplift to remain.”

However, Conservative Hummersknott councillor and Sedgefield MP Paul Howell said at some point the country had to go back to normality.

He said: “At the end of the day it’s a penny on income tax. If you’re a marginal earner that’s a couple of hundred pounds a year. Just like anything else, the support mechanisms need to stay there as long as they are needed, but there will come a time we need to move on.”

Responding to the notice of motion, Darlington MP Peter Gibson said the council’s job was to manage resources and take care of the community and national government policy was not something councillors should be wasting their time debating.

Mr Gibson added he had received very few concerns from residents over the issue. He said: “Who has said the uplift isn’t being considered to be extended or tapered? You give something on a temporary basis and people want to keep it. It’s difficult to take things away, I understand that.”