A BROAD, cross-sector coalition of North East organisations has come together to urge the Chancellor of the Exchequer to reverse the planned £20 a week cut to Universal Credit.

Serious concerns are being raised with Rishi Sunak, the MP for Richmond in North Yorkshire, which will hit hundreds of thousands of low-income households across the region this autumn.

In a joint letter, organisations ‘committed to advocating for the people, communities and businesses of the North East’, the coalition has highlighted that cutting Universal Credit as planned would directly impact a third of all working-age households across the region.

Two in five of those affected are families with children, pushing many into poverty and causing severe hardship for those already struggling to stay afloat.

The regional organisations have also shared their concern that the impending cut will take almost £5million a week out of the North East economy, damaging local jobs and businesses just as they begin to recover from the terrible impact of Covid-19.

The letter to the Chancellor, which has been copied to all North East MPs, argues that increasing child poverty, already rising steeply in the region as we went into the pandemic, whilst also harming the region’s economy, is the very opposite of ‘levelling up’.

Amanda Bailey, director of the North East Child Poverty Commission, said:

“The North East went into the pandemic with high and rapidly growing rates of child poverty, and action to tackle this longstanding crisis must be central to any meaningful levelling up agenda.

“Today’s letter demonstrates there is serious concern across our region about the widespread impact of cutting Universal Credit and the fact it makes no sense at all to do this, both for our society and our economy, as we look to ‘build back better’ from Covid-19.”

Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Newcastle, Shona Alexander, added: “The Government rightly recognised that Universal Credit levels were inadequate and the decision to increase the rate by £20 a week has provided a lifeline for thousands of families across the North East, including many in work.

“Our social security system should both protect people at risk of being pulled into poverty, and be strong enough to pull people out, but this planned cut to Universal Credit will clearly prevent that.”

Leigh Elliott, chief executive of Children North East, said young people must be at the heart of the country’s recovery plans, and that includes ‘investing in a strong social security system which provides a decent safety net for families’.

She said: “It’s not right to cut people adrift just as we look to rebuild from this dreadful pandemic, which has significantly increased levels of hardship for so many children and young people across the North East.”

Carol Botten, chief executive of VONNE, said the voluntary and community sector is working tirelessly to support families and individuals across the region.

She said resources are seriously overstretched by existing levels of demand.

She said: “The planned cut to Universal Credit will clearly place even greater pressure on local voluntary and community groups already at the limits of their capacity, and there’s a real concern that this may see families falling through the net.”

The organisations signing today’s letter to the Chancellor are:

• North East Child Poverty Commission

• Citizens Advice Newcastle

• Children North East

• Voluntary Organisations’ Network North East (VONNE)

• Rt Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham and Church of England lead on child poverty

• North East England Chamber of Commerce

• Northern TUC • Youth Focus: North East

• NE Youth

• North East & North Cumbria Child Health and Wellbeing Network

• Citizens Advice Northumberland

• Citizens Advice Gateshead

• Citizens Advice Sunderland

• Citizens Advice South Tyneside

• Citizens Advice County Durham

• Citizens Advice Darlington

• Citizens Advice Hartlepool

• Citizens Advice Redcar & Cleveland

A Government spokesperson said: “The Universal Credit uplift was always intended to be a temporary measure to help households through the pandemic, but it is just one part of our package of support.

“We’ve invested billions in our Plan for Jobs, which is already getting people back into employment, and will support people in the long-term by helping them learn new skills or find new work.”