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World

UK's Johnson criticised over lack of COVID-19 welfare commitment

  • The number of those receiving it has soared, with applications almost doubling to 5.8 million from pre-pandemic levels.
Published January 18, 2021

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced widespread criticism on Monday for refusing to commit to the renewal of a temporary welfare increase brought in last year to help people through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Johnson has told his lawmakers to abstain on a symbolic vote on the issue in parliament later, renewing attention on whether his government is doing enough for people on low incomes after a damaging row over free school meals for needy children.

The opposition Labour Party will call for an increase of 20 pounds ($27) a week to the Universal Credit welfare payment to be extended beyond April. The result of the vote, due at 1900 GMT, will not be binding on the government.

Asked four times whether the top-up would continue, Johnson did not give a definitive answer: "What we've said is that we will put our arms around the whole of the country."

The government says no decision has been made yet and accuses Labour of staging a political stunt with the vote. Labour and other parties say the government risks devastating the finances of those who rely on the benefit.

"This 20 pound uplift has been the difference between making ends meet or not for many, many families," Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said.

Some members of Johnson's Conservative Party could also defy the order to abstain and instead vote with Labour, underlining dissatisfaction over ministers' handling of support for society's most vulnerable.

Britain has announced emergency help for the economy worth 280 billion pounds, including a massive job protection scheme, and is running its largest peacetime deficit to try to soften the blow of the pandemic.

Universal Credit is Britain's main method of supporting those who are out of work, working in low income jobs or eligible for welfare based on sickness or disability.

The number of those receiving it has soared, with applications almost doubling to 5.8 million from pre-pandemic levels.

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