Has the £20 Universal Credit uplift extension just kicked the can further down the street?

Has the £20 Universal Credit uplift extension just kicked the can further down the street?

How did we get here?

Last April, in an early attempt to respond to the impact of Covid-19, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak,  introduced a temporary uplift for Universal Credit claimants of £20 a week. That might not sound like much in the scheme of things, you’d think? Wrong. it’s had such an impact on the families that have received it, that the potential of having it taken away would now be too much to bear. £20 a week means money in utility metres, food on the table, activities for families stuck at home. It’s a life-changing amount of money for families who are only just coping, or already experiencing daily deprivation in their lives.

The temporary extension

To the relief of many charities, campaigners and, of course, UC benefit claimants, the Chancellor announced in his Budget speech last week that the £20 a week uplift introduced last April was to be extended a further 6 months.  To help mitigate the impact of coronavirus on household finances the uplift, which was due to end on 31 March, will now remain in place until September. The Chancellor also confirmed working tax credit claimants would receive equivalent support over the next six months through a one-off payment of £500.

But with the UC uplift extension have we just kicked the can further down the street and will the uplift need to be extended or indeed made permanent beyond September?

Surging unemployment has led to a massive increase in UC claimants

The number of people claiming Universal Credit in the UK has doubled since the start of the pandemic, surging from 3 million in March 2020 to 6 million at the start of this year. Around 446 people were still making new claims every hour in the first week of January 2021, and a total of 4.5 million people have made a claim for the benefit since the start of the public health crisis. The statistics reflect the scale of the hardship caused by Covid-19. This has been laid bare with new figures showing that more than a third of claims since Universal Credit was introduced in April 2013 have been made during the COVID19 pandemic.

Moreover, the number of people on company payrolls has fallen by 726,000 during the same period according to the Office for National Statistics, and the unemployment rate reached a five-year high in December. There is no doubt the £20 uplift has provided a safety net for people that have been made redundant or the self employed who have seen their profits drop due to lockdowns and social distancing measures. This is a very bad state of affairs indeed, that we predict will get worse before it gets better.

Why the £20 uplift proves so vital?

Over 620,000 families with children have started claiming Universal Credit since the start of the pandemic, marking a 51 per cent increase. Two thirds of the families now receiving Universal Credit are single parent families, and around 90 per cent of single parents are women. Analysis by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) last year concluded that withdrawing the temporary increase in March risked sweeping 700,000 more people, including 300,000 more children, into poverty.

With the current uplift lifeline in place, Citizens Advice estimated that lockdown debts have already reached £1.6 billion, 2 million households are behind on their energy bills and half a million tenants are behind an average of £730 on their rent. Citizens Advice research showed that the £20 a week uplift equates is the equivalent of 3 days food shopping and almost 7 days of energy costs for many households. With the announcement by Ofgem that energy bills are to rise by £96 to £1,138 a year in April for households on standard or default tariffs combined with the fact we already have higher energy costs due to being confined to our homes and the children having being at home due to schools being shut. Many have already found themselves in a perfect storm of fuel and food poverty due to these factors and the recent cold weather snap.

The loss of the uplift at the end of March would have proved devastating not just for families on Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits, but to the economy as a whole; it was estimated that the uplift alone is pumping £500 million a month into local economies at a time when they find themselves on life support due to many high street shops being closed.

What next for the £20 lifeline?

At this time, it is unclear whether the £20 uplift will be extended beyond September. With the vaccine roll out proving successful so far and infection rates dropping it is hard to gauge what will happen when lockdown ends and how quickly people can get back to work. It is difficult to predict how swiftly the economy can bounce back and if we will see a rise in redundancies again as the furlough or job retention scheme winds down similarly to what we witnessed last year as the rates the government paid to businesses were gradually reduced.

The chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on poverty, Kevin Hollinrake, recently recommended that “There is a compelling case for making the uplift permanent.” The Trussell Trust found that before the pandemic struck 70% of Universal Credit claimants had experienced debt during the 5 weeks wait for the initial payment of the benefit. They also found out from their survey that only 8% of respondents said their full Universal Credit payment covered their cost of living and only 5% of people who said they were disabled or had ill-health said their full Universal Credit payment covered their cost of living.

The Government has expressed on multiple occasions that the uplift is ‘temporary’ and impossible to sustain.  We say families livelihoods will be impossible to sustain without it.

Let’s hope social responsibility takes hold before the Autumn.

6 things employers need to think about before making staff redundant

6 things employers need to think about before making staff redundant

6 things employers need to think about before making staff redundant


The BBC news report yesterday that Citizens Advice is now receiving calls seeking redundancy advice once every two minutes is staggering.

We talked to Society Matters’ employment and discrimination specialist Richard Owen, who has over 40 years’ experience of advising and tribunal representation in employment and discrimination cases, to get his thoughts on what employers need to be thinking about if they are considering making staff redundant, particularly when people are returning from furlough.

Here are the top 6 pieces of advice Richard would offer to employers to ensure they don’t fall foul of their legal responsibilities to their staff during these difficult times:


1. Plan ahead

It is now essential that employers start to plan ahead. Make sure you have a clear business strategy including processes, paperwork, timetables and the right people in place to manage the redundancies. To give you a hand if you need it, Society Matters’ employment law team has prepared a checklist of things employers need to think about before making redundancies. Click here to request a copy now.

2. Think about your core business functions first

It really is advisable to decide from the outset which employees and/or roles are essential for the continuation of the core business function, including possible merging of roles, restructuring of departments and teams. Carefully consider any options for changing the operation of the business to minimise redundancies (such as homeworking, flexible hours, reduced hours, alternate or rotating shift patterns). Also consider asking for voluntary redundancies – this might help you to reduce your staff numbers to acceptable levels (although you may also risk losing people from core roles, so make sure you have your criteria set out first before you go for this option).

3. Prepare your selection criteria carefully

The pool of employees to be placed at risk, and the selection and scoring criteria to be used to make your ultimate decisions, need be prepared very carefully, ensuring that the criteria are then applied fairly and consistently. You’re at liberty to choose your own criteria which should be fair and if possible objective and measurable – such as length of service, disciplinary record, absence record, skills and competencies, standards of performance, qualifications, flexibility. Just be fully prepared, for each criteria you use, to justify the scoring of employees against these criteria if challenged (that’s why you need to be as objective as you can). It can be very risky to base a score solely on someone’s verbal personal opinion.

4. Follow the legal process

It’s really important that you follow the correct procedures at all times including all stages of consultation with the affected employees, ensuring clarity and transparency throughout. Refer to ACAS website if you are unsure of the process to follow. Above all, remember that consultation is not just a tick box exercise and must be meaningful and proactive. Ensure that each employee has a fair opportunity to have their say. Remember to also consult with those employees who are not at risk but may be expected to take on additional duties as a result of redundancies. If you’re unsure it’s definitely best to seek advice from an employment law adviser before taking action.

5. Try to find alternatives to redundancy

Do everything you can during the whole process (including notice periods) to find alternatives to redundancy for each employee affected. Remember this is a legal duty. Please consider seriously any positive suggestions made by employees regarding alternative roles that they think you could offer them, as failure to do so may cause you serious problems later.

6. Keep in touch with government incentives

Finally, when considering the financial impact don’t forget the Chancellor’s announcement of a government bonus of £1000 payable to every employer for each employee taken back to work off furlough”. Details are available on the .gov website if you’d like to know more click here.


The team at Society Matters cic understands that there are difficult times ahead for employers and it is inevitable that many jobs will be lost. It is clear now that many businesses that have already lost so much are at risk of losing so much more, especially when it comes to our greatest assets which are our employees.

It is more important now than ever that we stick to the regulations and protect our employees as much as we can – they are the people who keep us moving through all our business challenges and they are the very people who will get us through this unprecedented time too. By working with your employees to find a solution to the difficulties you’re facing you could find a way through you hadn’t even considered before.

For more employment law advice from Richard Owen read this 10 point checklist for employers worried about getting back to business

Covid19 has infected the very foundations of our society

Covid19 has infected the very foundations of our society

Covid19 has infected the very foundations of our society


As we are seeing restrictions lifted and emergency financial help from the Government eased, we take a breath and reflect on how society as we know it has evolved with the impacts of the pandemic; we need to quickly get to grips with the changing needs of society – how people and communities have already been impacted, but also the continually shifting landscape as we already see a second wave of challenges being faced.

If you think in terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we really have seen the Covid-19 virus has infected society’s absolute foundations, with people’s basic physical and security needs being thoroughly tested.


Coronavirus has had multiple physical impacts

Many of our colleagues and clients have expressed concern with their overall health and wellbeing as a result of lockdown-related isolation at a very basic level. Layer on top of that concerns with possible and actual health issues both directly associated with covid-19 and either exacerbated by, or caused by, the pandemic, and we realise that not many of us have escaped unscathed.

Food shortages

Of course, a factor that has a huge impact on health is food and nutrition. Reduced earnings has led to a lack of food resources, and this is a really serious concern, with a huge reported rise in families that are going without this basic, fundamental, physical provision. Earlier in the lockdown this in part related to difficulties associated with accessing supermarkets, particularly for those who are at high-risk, notwithstanding the scarcity of food in the early days of the pandemic due to bulk panic buying.

The most concerning impact is a lack of funds, leading to exceptionally high demand for food bank supplies to mitigate this crisis. The Trussell Trust reported a 175% increase in requests for emergency parcels in May, and the struggle continues to worsen. Many who are still shielding and who have lost pay or, in many cases, their employment, face an uncertain future, and those that are still on furlough will be understandably worried that they may be next in line for redundancy as the impending recession looms. The reality is that some people are now putting themselves and their families at risk as the only way they can find to put food on the table. For these people’s lives, coronavirus has served a terrible blow.


The pandemic has impacted on people’s security in so many ways


We are hearing a lot about the predicted economic recession that Government is now attempting to avert, but if we look at the impacts at an individual family level, personal security has taken a massive nose-dive, driven by serious impacts on financial stability.

Universal Credit

The Government uses the increase in the number of Universal Credit claimants as a proxy for measuring reduced income. On that basis the shocking reality is that there have been over three and a quarter million new claims for the welfare benefit since the start of lockdown, with the Government now being forced to invest close to £7 billion extra in the welfare system since the pandemic began, money which is now supporting approximately 10 million families in the UK. This would have been beyond comprehension earlier this year.

Payment delays

As well as claimant numbers soaring, the impact of the well-publicised issues associated with Universal Credit pre-Covid-19 have now touched millions more people, massively impacting on their financial security. The 5 weeks waiting period before the first benefit payment is received has understandably been a major problem area experienced by families who have found themselves ‘locked down’ with extra outgoings, no income and an uncertain financial future. And this really is lose, lose situation. For those who choose to take an advance they then need to pay it back, resulting in reduced benefits for an extended period once their payments actually start, with resulting difficult choices about which creditor must come first; for those who choose not to borrow, the impact comes that much sooner – 5 weeks can equate to 2 months’ arrears in rent, utilities, and a hole in the pocket when it comes to feeding the family. In other words dire straits.

Power and heat

Another basic physiological need is heat – staying warm and being able to cook in our homes. The clement weather has at least been an antidote to heating bills, but with people being at home for longer stretches of time over the months of lockdown, energy use has rocketed. Citizens Advice had  already been warning that 6 million people were behind with household bills, and although energy companies were offering a temporary amnesty on chasing arrears while lockdown was at its peak, they’ve now been given the go-ahead to start chasing payments. This really is going to get very messy.


All of these impacts have a high chance of leading to debt, but there’s more risk to come in the second wave of impacts as mortgage holidays come to an abrupt end and more people lose their jobs after being furloughed. Rent and council tax arrears are already rife. Citizens Advice has estimated that around 2.6 million tenants had expected to fall behind on their rent because of coronavirus just last month, so debt is looking like it will be the new pandemic for society to deal with.

Housing and shelter

Whilst the Government’s ban on evictions during the height of lockdown has eased people’s fears of losing the security of their homes, once this ends on 23rd August a housing crisis is looming. Our team of social welfare advisers and caseworkers with our parent charity Citizens Advice Gateshead are bracing themselves for this next wave, concerned about their own and other charities’ capacity to cope with what homeless charity Shelter have predicted to be “a tidal wave of homelessness after the end of August”.

Job security

The increase in claims for Universal Credit is a clear indicator that jobs are disappearing fast. Employment Is a major pillar of society and critical to long term personal stability. When the number of people on employers’ payrolls has dropped by 612,000 between March and May, this gives the clearest sign yet of the looming crisis.  The services sector which covers a range of businesses from law firms and accountants to travel agents and restaurants represents 80% of UK economic output, and it’s the service sector that has been hit the hardest. It saw its steepest downturn in activity since records began in July 1996, almost entirely due to the closure of non-essential businesses and the cancellation of orders.

A recent article in the Independent, The story of the UK’s coronavirus jobs crisis in six charts, presents a pretty stark reality when it comes to the employment market. Some 8.7 million British workers have been furloughed since the current crisis began – around a quarter of the UK’s workforce. Under the terms of the furlough scheme, employees receive 80 per cent of their usual wages, up to £2,500 a month, from the government. A further 2.5 million claims have been made under the “Self-Employment Income Support Scheme”. Both schemes are welcomed and have been vital in supporting society through the challenges faced so far, but they are currently only in place until October, and employers are being asked to cover some of the costs from August as the scheme starts to taper.

It is inevitable that many employers who have been able to maintain their staff so far are going to have to make cutbacks and many jobs are still to be lost. The employment advice and law sectors are facing a perfect storm of unfair dismissals and discrimination cases with a spike already appearing in maternity discrimination cases since lockdown began. Will the Government make the decision to extend the furlough and protect businesses and employees’ rights? Balancing the books is going to be difficult and people will inevitably fall through the cracks that are widening in job security.


So has lockdown rocked society’s status quo?


Let’s be honest, not everyone has faced economic impacts on a personal level, yet, as a result of the virus. Some families have managed to cope better than others. Physical exercise has gone up, credit card balances have gone down and, although on a smaller scale, the heartbeat of normal life for many has continued to beat. However despite people’s personal financial security being robust enough to see them through the worst of this crisis, its psychological and social impacts are far reaching.

The nation is reeling from losing almost 45,000 loved ones, neighbours, colleagues, carers, family members. The horrible reality of not being able to say goodbye, and the suspension and minimalisation of funerals has devasted so many people.  The estimated 30% rise in reported domestic abuse cases since lockdown started is symptomatic of the pandemic. Refuge reported a 700% increase in calls to its helpline in a single day in April as families felt the pressure and victims have become trapped in their homes. PTSD is already starting to emerge across key workers and children, and a recent survey found that some 14 per cent of people aged 16 and above are experiencing a mental health problem “much more than usual”. Extrapolating these findings to the whole of the population indicates that a massive 7.2 million people have experienced problems with their mental health in recent months. The second wave of issues we have identified as being on their way will only add to this.

People’s lives are being damaged. No one will escape the impact of the pandemic altogether – because it has rocked society’s status quo.

Society does matter, and this will be our saving grace

Amidst all of the bad, however, there is still a shining light, because people recognise that society matters. Communities have rallied to protect the vulnerable; hundreds of thousands of volunteers have helped to deliver groceries, pick up prescriptions and check in on neighbours. They have organised local mutual aid groups, helped through existing volunteering networks and offered their time in a host of different ways. Then there’s the overt support we have seen for the NHS and frontline workers, people showing their gratitude in many ways, from donations to clattering pans; we are showing that we care.

This humanity has demonstrated that society does matter, and this will be our saving grace.

But we must still recognise that Covid-19 has infected the very foundations of our society. People need to have their basic needs met to be able to move on in other areas of their lives, so it’s clear that the Government will need to do more to make this happen than an attempt to focus on medium term economic recovery.

Goodwill and friendship can only stretch so far …


Adam Matthews, Social Welfare Instructor


Employment Tribunals continue digitally during Covid19 pandemic

Employment Tribunals continue digitally during Covid19 pandemic

Employment tribunals continue digitally during Covid-19 pandemic


Anyone involved in Employment Tribunal cases should be aware that, under the procedural rules which govern Tribunals, the overriding objective is to enable the Tribunal to deal with cases fairly and justly.   This is set out in the Employment Tribunals (Constitution and Rules of Procedure) Regulations 2013.

How are Tribunal claims being processed during the pandemic?

Although from our own discussions with clients it seems the general assumption is that, like the courts, the Tribunals are not operating during the pandemic, this isn’t the case. They are continuing to operate and their offices remain open to process and progress claims.

Claims should continue to be submitted on-line as normal.  There will be no automatic extensions to time limits due to Coronavirus-related delays, although individual applications to extend time can be considered as in the usual way. However, there will be inevitable delays in the process due, for example, to reduced admin staff levels and Judges working from home. All face to face hearings are currently suspended but these have been replaced with telephone-based Case Management discussions with the parties to decide how existing cases should proceed.

Case Management hearings can be undertaken by phone

In order to give effect to the overriding objective during the Covid-19 pandemic, Tribunals have been given guidance about dealing with the restrictions which will impact on how cases can be dealt with practically and realistically. Where all parties have legal representation Case Management hearings have for some time been conducted by telephone conference call, with the agreement of the parties and the Tribunal. Hearings have usually only taken place face-to-face if either of the parties involved are not legally represented.

During the pandemic all of these hearings for the time being will be conducted by telephone, provided this meets the overriding objective.

Next steps can be undertaken by video conference

Tribunals will be considering whether and in what circumstances judicial mediations, preliminary hearings and full hearings can proceed effectively and fairly by being dealt with remotely utilising video link technology. At Case Management discussions parties will be asked to discuss whether they are interested in and able to participate in this type of hearing, to avoid the matter being delayed indefinitely as a result of the pandemic.

In making this decision a number of important issues are considered, including:

Does the Tribunal concerned have access to the necessary technology?

Do the parties and their representatives have access to the necessary technology?

If the Judge (and panel members if relevant) and the parties are not present in their offices can all parties have simultaneous access to the case documents and papers, either hard copy or electronic?

Will representatives be able to consult privately with clients during the case?

Will all parties be able to understand and fully participate in the hearing?

Will parties be in a suitable environment where there will be no distractions or disturbances?

What alternatives are there if the suggested method of remote hearing is not possible or practical?

Is the only practical option in a case to delay until it is possible for face to face hearings to resume?

Above all, is it in accordance with the overriding objective to hold a hearing by remote means?

Often the progression of the case using video conferencing will be feasible but inevitably there will be exceptions. Tribunals are treading unknown territory during the pandemic as we all are, however there is an imperative on Tribunals to ensure that as far as reasonably possible the wheels of justice continue to turn so there’s definitely hope. There’s no doubt of course that a high level of co-operation between all  parties and the Tribunals will be necessary to make sure the process works, and only retrospectively will we be able to tell how effective this has proven to be.

If you need representation to help you to pursue a matter through the Tribunal during the pandemic, get in touch with Citizens Advice for free advice on the best way to achieve this or go to their website here. You can also contact Society Matters cic employment law service for information about our fair and affordable fixed fee tribunals service.