Boris Johnson snubs calls to give 2m people a £1,000 coronavirus benefit boost

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Boris Johnson has snubbed calls to boost benefits for 2million needy people during the coronavirus crisis.

The government agreed to increase Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit by £20 a week for one year to help people cope during the pandemic.

But they’ve refused to match the increase for so-called ‘legacy benefits’ – despite the fact these are still claimed by huge numbers who haven’t moved to six-in-one benefit UC.

The vast majority of the roughly 2million people still on legacy benefits claim Employment Support Allowance (ESA), meaning they are chronically sick or disabled.

Charities, campaigners, a former Tory welfare chief, the cross-party Work and Pensions Committee, and even the DWP’s own watchdog have all called for the £20-a-week rise to be offered to people on legacy benefits.

But asked at PMQs if he would fulfil the plea, Boris Johnson snubbed the call.

Instead, the Prime Minister told committee chairman Stephen Timms: “Well, we’ve done a huge amount, and he’s a tireless campaigner on this matter.

“But I think he will accept that we’ve done a huge amount to increase support for people on benefits.

“And I remind him that the increase in Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit is up to £1,040 a year, benefiting 4million families across this country.”

Mr Timms, chairman of the Work and Pensions Committee, had said: “The government was right to raise Universal Credit by £20 a week at the start of the crisis.

“But other benefits like Employment and Support Allowance, claimed by other people in identical circumstances, was not raised.

“The all-party Work and Pensions agreed unanimously last week that those legacy benefits should be brought back into line with universal credit and raised.

“That’s since been endorsed by the former Secretary of State, Stephen Crabb. Will the Prime Minister endorse it as well?”

Charities warn the situation is “discriminating” against some of the most chronically ill benefit claimants who are on legacy benefits long-term.

Official figures last August showed there were still 1.98million people on ESA, which is worth £74.35 a week for the sick and disabled.

That dwarfs 183,000 people who were still on Jobseekers’ Allowance and 372,000 on Income Support last August.

There is now a huge gulf between what they get and what is offered to people on Universal Credit.

Basic rate jobseekers’ allowance and ESA each rose at the start of April to around £322 a month.

But the standard allowance in Universal Credit rose from £318 to £410 for singles over 25.

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey defended the move last month.

She said UC was chosen to “focus particularly on new claimants who are coming into the process for the first time.”

DWP Permanent Secretary Peter Schofield said the rate of legacy benefits could not be changed quickly due to older computer systems.

But Social Security Advisory Committee said the situation is “untenable”.

Liz Sayce, interim chair of the SSAC, said: “We are of the strong view that it is increasingly untenable for this group of claimants to be excluded.

“We recommend that the Government finds a way to ensure that this group of claimants, that includes some of the least well-off, are brought up to the same level as those in receipt of Universal Credit as soon as it is possible to do so.”

On “grounds of equity”, the government should consider backdating the increase to April 6, she added.

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