Boris Johnson has been accused by Keir Starmer of “turning on the poorest” as Britain eases out of the Covid crisis by scrapping the £20 universal credit uplift, which the Labour leader committed to replacing.

Backing a call by the footballer Marcus Rashford for the government to abandon plans to cut the uplift, which was introduced during the pandemic, Starmer said the reduction came “at the worst possible time because prices are going up”.

“Whether that’s fuel or food, or energy prices, and this is going to drive families and children into poverty and for the government to turn on the poorest as we come out of the pandemic is just so wrong,” the Labour leader told BBC Breakfast.

More than 800,000 people risk being pushed into poverty as a result of the cut, which was applied to assessments on Wednesday and will take effect in a week. About 100,000 renters in England will be in danger of eviction.

The Resolution Foundation, an independent thinktank focused on improving living standards for those on low to middle incomes, has described the move as the largest ever overnight cut in benefits, and the government has been warned it will have a severe impact as it coincides with rising energy costs and food prices.

Starmer reiterated that Labour planned to do away with universal credit altogether but added that if he was prime minister he would keep the £20 uplift until the system was overhauled.

“What we would do in the long term is actually replace universal credit, because one of the problems with the system we’ve got at the moment is that it traps people in poverty,” he said.

Pushed on whether that meant the uplift would stay under Labour until the system was replaced, he said: “It would stay. We wouldn’t make the cut. We would then replace it with something better.”

Ministers are understood to be examining a £1bn-a-year increase in benefit payments to cushion the impact of the £6bn-a-year cut in universal credit.

Rashford, the England and Manchester United footballer who last year forced Boris Johnson into a U-turn on free school meals, last month urged voters to write to their MPs before the £20 boost was scrapped on 6 October.

“Instead of removing vital support, we should be focusing on developing a long-term roadmap out of this child hunger pandemic,” he said. “On 6 October, millions lose a lifeline. It’s a move that Child Poverty Action Group says will raise child poverty to one in three.”

Contributor

Ben Quinn

The GuardianTramp

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