Boris Johnson’s pledge to ‘level up’ will ‘mean nothing’ if universal credit cut, TUC boss warns

By Ashley Cowburn
PA

Boris Johnson’s pledge to “level up” the country will “mean nothing” if the government presses ahead with plans to end the £20-per-week uplift to universal credit, union boss Frances O’Grady is set to warn.

In a keynote speech to the Trade Union Congress (TUC) annual conference, the general secretary will highlight the looming cut amid growing discontent at Westminster, including from backbench Conservative MPs.

It comes after Sajid Javid, the health secretary, reiterated on Sunday that the government plans to press ahead with removing the uplift, insisting it “will be ended as planned at the end of this month”.

Just last week, reports suggested an internal Whitehall analysis showed there could be a “catastrophic” impact of removing the support, including rising homelessness, poverty and foodbank use.

“Ministers tells us they are going to level up Britain,” Ms O’Grady will tell the TUC conference in London on Monday.

“But levelling up means nothing if they freeze workers’ pay, slash universal credit, and the number of kids in poverty soars.”

Insisting that Covid must be a “catalyst for real change”, she will say: “If levelling up means anything, it must mean levelling up living standards. We need an economy that treats everyone with dignity, that rewards hard work, that helps working families and communities thrive”.

The TUC general secretary will also call on ministers to better prepare the country for future economic shocks, including the threat posed by the climate crisis, as she warns: “Covid is not going to be a one-off”.

In her speech, she will highlight the dangers posed to workers through future pandemics, technological disruption and climate change, saying: “Looking ahead over the next five, ten, twenty years, it’s clear that economic shocks will grow and intensify in the UK and around the world”.

She will add: “Covid is not going to be a one-off. Years of austerity took their toll. And meant we fought this pandemic with one hand tied behind our backs.”

“The UK must be better prepared for crises in the future and they’re coming. Climate chaos is here already and the longer we put off getting to net zero, the more disruptive it will be.”

“In an age of anxiety, working people are crying out for security. We must build an economy that can withstand the shocks – and help working families face the future with confidence.”

After a spate of recent disruption to supply chains and stark warnings that food shortages in supermarkets and restaurants are “permanent”, Ms O’Grady will also demand better conditions for workers.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) group has previous warned the labour shortages behind the gaps on shelves and restaurant ensues could last up to two years, without urgent government intervention.

“Ministers may scratch their heads about how to protect supply chains and fill vacancies,” Ms O’Grady will say. “Well, here’s a novel idea – let’s make that industry deliver decent conditions, direct employment and a proper pay rise.”


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