United Kingdom

Minister Therese Coffey hints at U-turn over plan to axe £20 Covid benefits boost

The Work and Pensions Secretary hinted today that plans to cut a £20-per-week benefit 'boost' for millions badly hit by the Covid economic collapse could be reversed imminently.

Therese Coffey said ministers will decide 'soon' whether to extend the increase in Universal Credit (UC) past March amid Tory backbench fury.

Ms Coffey, who is believed to be one of the ministers lobbying Rishi Sunak  to keep the cash, said she was in 'active discussion' with the Chancellor and that all options were under 'active consideration.

The Chancellor has been resisting growing pressure to extend the higher payments brought in during the pandemic, suggesting other 'drastic measures' will be needed to foot the bill.

He is said to have told restive MPs that the £6billion costs of the benefit increase - worth more than £1,000 a year to families - is equivalent to a penny on the basic rate of income tax, or a 5p rise in fuel duty.

The uplift was originally announced last year to support struggling families through the Covid-19 crisis but it is due to expire at the end of March.

Ms Coffey told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that UC had been a 'lifeline' and said the Government wants to try to 'extend our support throughout the impact of this pandemic'.

Asked whether that meant the uplift or other extra support will stay for the rest of this year, she said: 'I think it is fair to say that I'm in active discussion with the Chancellor and of course with the Prime Minister about how we continue to make sure we support families during this difficult time.'

Therese Coffey said ministers will decide 'soon' whether to extend the increase in Universal Credit (UC) past March amid Tory backbench fury.

Ms Coffey, who is believed to be one of the ministers lobbying Rishi Sunak to keep the cash, said she was in 'active discussion' with the Chancellor and that all options were under 'active consideration.

 Last week six Tories backed a Labour motion last night calling for the higher rate of UC to stay in place, despite Mr Johnson pleading with MPs to abstain.

The Opposition Day Debate was not binding on the Government, but underlined the divisions over the policy. 

Yesterday it was reported that Mr Sunak had altered plans for the benefit boost to be replaced by a £500 one-off payment, increasing it to £1,000.

But as its expiry on March 31 approaches, he and the PM are under pressure from Tory MPs, including Ms Coffey and many who won 'red wall' seats from Labour.  

Ms Coffey told BBC Breakfast: 'We are hand in glove with the Treasury, working through to make sure we provide the best support to people throughout this pandemic...

'I can assure you that we are in active consideration of the options on how to best support people during this time and I hope we will be able to come to a decision soon.'

She added: 'We are working very closely with the Treasury so that we can make sure that we have the best decision which I hope the Prime Minister will be able to announce shortly.'

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