THE £20 weekly increase to Universal Credit payments must be extended for at least a year to prevent hundreds of thousands of families plunging into poverty, leaders have warned.

Ahead of next month's budget, The Northern Echo has launched its Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is campaign, urging Chancellor Rishi Sunak to deliver on a number of policies to help people across the North-East.

Amongst them, the Echo is calling for an extension of the £20-a-week uplift to Universal Credit, which is due to end on March 31.

An extension has already been backed by dozens of Conservative MPs from the Northern Research Group and Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen in a letter to the Chancellor ahead of the March 3 Budget.

The Northern Echo:

Jessie Joe Jacobs, Labour Candidate for Tees Valley Mayor, said: “I’ve led charities and worked with families in need for nearly half my life and things have never been so tough.

“The extra £20 a week increase to Universal Credit has been so important. It has been a lifeline, putting food on tables and ensuring people remain afloat during a crisis not of their making.

“The Conservatives can not take away this lifeline. Over 70,000 people in the Tees Valley would be affected by the Chancellor’s cut to Universal Credit at a time when they need this money the most.

“I’d urge him therefore to use this budget to do the right thing in keeping the increase. This crisis has hurt some of our most vulnerable families the most.

“The right and moral decision is to stand with those families and people in need at a time of crisis and keep the increase.”

The Northern Echo: ABSOLUTELY DELIGHTED: Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham

Alex Cunningham MP for Stockton North, said “We are now in week seven of the third national lockdown and still there is no fixed end date in sight. While the Tories continue to waste and mismanage billions of pounds in crony contracts to Tory donors, the financial hardship and anxieties for hundreds of thousands of families has only increased.

“It is outrageous that the Tory Chancellor still appears to be pressing ahead with his plans to cut Universal Credit - a cut that will hit the poorest in our society when the job market is at its most precarious in decades.

“We’re not just in a health crisis, we’re in the midst of an economic one too. £20 a week might not seem like a lot to the Chancellor but for many in Stockton North and the Tees Valley, this increase has been a lifeline – and it will be needed beyond April 2021.

“I’m urging the Chancellor – and Tory MPs in the Tees Valley – to do the right thing: cancel the cut to Universal Credit, protect family finances, and ensure local people have the means to get through this crisis.”

The Northern Echo: Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald

Andy McDonald, MP for Middlesbrough, said: “Universal Credit has been the main focus of financial support for many families since the first lockdown back in March 2020 with a huge number of people having to apply for it having lost their job during the pandemic.

“It is simply not enough for families to live on. Constituents in Middlesbrough have contacted me as they fear losing their homes and are struggling day by day."