What is Universal Credit

Universal Credit is a social security payment that supports you if you are on low income (e.g. if you are in low paid work) or if you are out of work. It is a payment that aims to help with people’s living costs to ensure that everyone has enough to cover the essentials.

Universal Credit aimed to simplify the way in which benefits were received and, from its introduction in 2013, it replaced six previous benefits. This meant that people who were newly applying for support received Universal Credit instead of these six benefits, which are now known as ‘legacy benefits’. They include Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, Income Support, Job-Seekers Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance and Working Tax Credit.

The history of Universal Credit

Universal Credit was rolled out gradually across the country from 2013 and by the end of 2018 all areas within Great Britain were offering Universal Credit instead of these legacy benefits to new claimants. This staggered roll out meant the number of people claiming Universal Credit did not increase drastically at one set period and a significant number of people remain claiming legacy benefits.

The impact of the pandemic

Due to the pandemic, the number of people claiming Universal Credit has more than doubled. In just three months from March 2020 to June 2020 the numbers claiming Universal Credit increased from 3 million to almost 5.5 million and, a year later, over 6 million people are claiming Universal Credit. In response to the unprecedented numbers of people claiming Universal Credit, and in recognition of the very low level of income on Universal Credit, the UK Government increased the basic payment by £20 a week. This uplift is now set to be removed from October 2021.

That is 6 million people due to be affected by the biggest overnight cut to the basic rate of social security since World War II.

What the cut means

For the average person, this will be an overnight 13% cut to their income and for some families, it’ll be as high as 21%:

Current rate (per month)  Planned rate from October (per month)
Single claimant aged under 25
Standard allowance
£344.0 £257.34
Single claimant aged 25 or over  £411.51 £324.85


This cut will be a devastating blow for millions of households which are already struggling to make ends meet – potentially pushing even more people through the doors of food banks this October.

However, we know from the people referred to food banks, that people claiming legacy benefits (excluding Working Tax Credit) have lost out on the increase since the start of the pandemic. This means people receiving disability benefits like Employment Support Allowance have been overlooked. When 6 in 10 working age people referred to food banks are disabled, three times the proportion in the general population, we know the UK government should not just keep the £20 a week increase for people claiming Universal Credit or Working Tax Credits, it should extend it to other legacy benefits too.

Support for to Keep the Lifeline

And it’s not just the Trussell Trust who think this cut should be stopped. Polling from the Health Foundation and Ipsos MORI showed that 59% of the public support making the £20 increase permanent, while only 20% would oppose it. It also has significant cross-party support, with six former Conservative Work and Pensions Secretaries of State recently writing a letter to the Chancellor urging for him to not go ahead with the planned cut.

The Trussell Trust is part of a coalition of 90 organisations urging the UK government to #KeepTheLifeline and we hope you will join us in this campaign.