A CONSERVATIVE-led local authority looks set to urge Rishi Sunak to the £20 increase to Universal Credit introduced in response to the pandemic is extended beyond March.

Ahead of a full meeting of Darlington Borough Council, the authority’s leader Councillor Heather Scott said the ruling Conservative group would be backing a notice of motion lodged by Labour councillors which states the Tory Government policy introduced last March had had “a positive effect on the lives of thousands of local claimants”.

The council’s latest figures show the number of Darlington residents receiving Universal Credit soared over the year to November, from 5,790 to 10,649. The ward with the lowest percentage rise was North Road, which saw 336 more claimants. In Park East and Bank Top wards 516 and 498 more residents respectively were claiming Universal Credit in November than a year before. 

The move comes as the Chancellor examines the £6bn cost of the benefit increase – worth £1,040 a year to families – which has been equated 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 “temporary”.

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.

Cllr Scott said: “Unfortunately we don’t know when Covid will end, so we feel on behalf of the residents of Darlington we have got to make sure the Universal Credit uplift is extended and as much support as possible is given to get them out of restrictions.

“We do understand Rishi Sunak is going to look at it very closely in the Budget, but we feel we have to support the residents in this and send this message to Rishi.”

Cllr Scott said since the beginning of the pandemic the authority had strived to help disadvantaged families in areas such as Park East, providing some £8,000 in support, but one of the councillor’s behind the motion, Cllr Cyndi Hughes, had not approached her to ask for help for her residents. Cllr Scott said: “We would have thought ward councillors should be assisting as many residents as possible to apply for grants or get training.

“Universal Credit is a help, but what we have got to try to be doing is get our children better educated.”