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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

ANBCouncil backs motion urging Stormont to retain Universal Credit £20 weekly uplift

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has backed a motion urging Stormont ministers to retain the £20 Universal Credit uplift for this financial year and commit to a long term strategy to tackle “shameful levels of poverty and social deprivation”.

The motion was tabled at a meeting of the council on Monday evening by SDLP Antrim Councillor Roisin Lynch and seconded by party colleague Dunsilly Cllr Ryan Wilson.

The SDLP says that Sinn Féin Ministers Deirdre Hargey and Conor Murphy should step in and find the funding. The £20 weekly uplift was introduced in response to the Covid pandemic and is due to come to an end on October 6.

Commenting on next month’s loss of £1,000 annually, Cllr Lynch said that people are facing Boris Johnson’s “unspeakably cruel punitive cuts” at time when the cost of utility bills are rising, resulting in some people forced to choose between “heating their home or putting food on the table”.

Cllr Lynch urged Minister Hargey to use her powers to intervene and stop the Universal Credit cut which is estimated to cost £55m.

“Our people cannot be expected to take this cut. We need to see immediate action to protect this money and to address the shocking levels of poverty in our borough and in Northern Ireland.”

Cllr Wilson said:

“The pandemic and resulting economic fall out is not over. Despite our precarious economic position, the UK Government is continuing with the Universal Credit cut.”

It is understood that 134,070 people in Northern Ireland are currently in receipt of Universal Credit, one third of whom is in work.

Glengormley Sinn Fein Cllr Michael Goodman pointed out that the situation has been “created by the British Government not by Minister Hargey or Murphy”.

“They would be better to direct their ire to the British Government and ask them to provide funding or to the Executive. £55m was not budgeted for at the beginning of this financial year. It would have to come from other budgets.

“The support of the motion is excellent but the way it is put across by Cllrs Wilson and Lynch is extremely disappointing.”

Community Advice Antrim and Newtownabbey (CAAN) says:

“In the last 12 months, CAAN has dealt with 9,000 Universal Credit enquiries from clients across the borough. This cut will effect low income workers as well as those of working age not able to work.

“The £20 is about the basics. It’s a meal on the table, oil in the tank; it’s about switching a light on at night in your home. We have clients who, after paying to keep a roof over their heads, currently are already left with a meagre £36 a week to cover basic essentials, what quality of life will they have after this is cut?”

Newtownabbey Foodbank says that demand has doubled during the Covid pandemic with an overall increase of 171 per cent in Northern Ireland overall with Antrim Foodbank reporting that one fifth of children, 4,549 in South Antrim, were living in poverty in 2019/20.

Earlier this year, children in Antrim and Newtownabbey benefited from an emergency response programme after the sum of £33,000 was awarded by the borough council to the Save the Children charity through the Covid-19 Community Support Fund to deliver aid to needy families who required food, clothing, baby necessities, household products and educational aids.

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