The next few weeks will be the best chance claimants have to prevent a catastrophic real-terms reduction in benefits rates from next April. Many Conservative MPs are worried about losing their majorities and a wave of protest about possible benefit cuts may encourage them to force the government to back down.
The prime minister and chancellor have made it clear that they have not yet made a firm decision on whether to uprate benefits in line with inflation next April, in spite of both Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak giving an undertaking to do so.
Instead, the idea is being mooted that benefits should be increased by the same rate as wages have gone up. This would be around 5.4% instead of the 10% inflation figure.
There has been an outpouring of protest and concern from other political parties and from charities such as the Joseph Rowntree Trust (JRT) and Rethink Mental Illness about what would effectively be a cut in benefits rates at a time of great hardship.
JRT has pointed out that the government has cut the real value of benefits in 7 of the last 10 years.
Uprating by only 5.4% would mean that benefits are worth around 15% below the April 2016 level, when the benefits freeze began to bite. This amounts to £470 a year less for a single adult.
JRT say that if the 5.4% rise goes ahead the poorest will see their income fall by £214 a year, whilst the richest would gain more than £5,000.
Katie Schmuecker, Principal Policy Adviser for JRF said:
“Reneging on the promise to raise benefits in line with inflation as usual would be a hostile and harmful act of historic proportions. It is morally indefensible for a government who have chosen to target tax cuts at the richest, to target spending cuts at those on the lowest incomes who are not responsible for this crisis.
“This will terrify millions who have been enduring a cost of living emergency for months. They are facing a harsh winter – struggling to feed their families, cook hot food and heat their homes.”
Even a number of high profile Conservative politicians have attacked the idea of not fully uprating benefits, including Michael Gove, Esther McVey, Iain Duncan Smith and Penny Mordaunt.
Originally we would have had to wait until 23 November to be told what the government intends to do. But pressure after the U-turn on cutting the 45p rate of tax means that Kwarteng will now set out his plans by the end of October.
Once the decision has been announced it will take vastly more effort to get it changed.
So, the time to write to your MP and give your opinion is right now. And, for once, it will be particularly valuable to write to your MP to ask them to support a benefits increase if they are a Conservative. Because this may be the one time when, looking at an increased chance of losing their job if they don’t, they may just decide to speak up in public for claimants.
You can find your MP here
If you have contacts with a charity or disability organisation that has not yet spoken out against the cuts, it would definitely be worth contacting them and asking for their support.
If you do take action, please post a comment below and let us know what response you get.