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BASW blog: ‘The cut to Universal Credit is yet another austerity policy - social workers must oppose it’

​​​​​​​Social workers must challenge the Government’s plan to cut Universal Credit, says BASW member Jon Dudley

Four years ago, BASW and the Social Workers Union supported the Boot Out Austerity march. Led by BASWs then Chair, Guy Shennan, a core group of BASW members and staff (of which I was one) walked over 100 miles from BASW HQ in Birmingham to our AGM in Liverpool.

Many social workers and supporters joined us as we highlighted the impact of years of austerity policies. We met many people and heard their stories along the way. We visited services supporting people with disabilities, homelessness charities, food banks, community centres, mental wellbeing services and others.

Everywhere we went the insidious growth of “in work” poverty was becoming apparent. Some of the services we visited in 2017 were subsequently forced to close, as local authority budgets were cut by Government.

The £20 uplift to Universal Credit was a recognition that previous levels were inadequate

Times were tough then, they are much tougher now.

The crushing impact of the pandemic has come on top of government policies leading to a steady decline in the real value of welfare benefits. As the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has pointed out, the main rate of out-of-work support was at its lowest ever level as a proportion of average wages when the pandemic struck in 2020.

The £20 uplift to Universal Credit was not a handy boost to benefit rates, but a recognition that previous levels were simply inadequate.

To remove it would result in the biggest cut to the basic rate of social security since the birth of the modern welfare state. Overnight, millions of people will be thrown into poverty and (according to Citizens Advice) at least 2.3 million into debt.

We must act now – write to your local MP using BASW’s template email

This matters to social workers in terms of our collective commitment to social justice.

We know families will suffer. Thousands of care leavers will find themselves on benefits at below subsistence levels. The Trussell Trust estimates an additional million people will become reliant on food banks. Poverty remains, as it always has, part of the backdrop to our day-to-day practice.

We need to act, individually and together, to challenge ongoing austerity policies. We can take to the streets again to show our solidarity with groups such as the People’s Assembly Against Austerity - and some of us will in October.

More urgently, we must all seize the moment to write to our local MP. BASW has provided a template email for members, which I encourage you to use and adapt. In doing so we will join the rising tide of voices from across the UK to insist not only that the £20 uplift to Universal Credit is retained but that it is extended to those on “legacy” benefits.

The Chancellor - himself a multi-millionaire - says the uplift was only ever temporary. What we know is that its removal will deliver a crushing blow to the long-term detriment of millions of people for many years to come.

Jon Dudley is a member of BASW and the BASW/SWU Austerity Action Group.  He was BASW Treasurer from 2016 to 2021.