End to benefits freeze branded a ‘cynically timed’ decision at election time

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The benefits freeze is to end in April, the UK Government has confirmed, in a move criticised by Labour as a “cynically-timed announcement”.

Universal Credit and other welfare payments will rise 1.7 per cent in line with inflation and the state pension will increase by 3.9 per cent, the Department for Work and Pensions (DwP) said yesterday.

About 2.5 million people on Universal Credit and millions more on legacy benefits will benefit, the Government said. Picture: PA

About 2.5 million people on Universal Credit and millions more on legacy benefits will benefit, the Government said. Picture: PA

Labour said “nobody will be fooled” by the announcement in the run-up to the 12 December election, with the SNP branding it a “cynical bribe”.

The DwP said the end to the freeze introduced by Tory former chancellor George Osborne would cost £5 billion a year.

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Shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood said: “Nobody will be fooled by this cynically timed announcement, which even now will leave the benefits freeze in place until next April.

Harsh, punitive Conservative policies like the benefits freeze, the two-child limit and the five-week wait have created a society where people are being forced to turn to food banks in ever increasing numbers just to survive.

“Labour will abolish the benefits freeze, scrap Universal Credit and put an end to the two-child limit. We will ensure that our social security system genuinely protects people from poverty as it should.”

SNP MP Neil Gray said the freeze had not been a necessity, but a “political choice”.

He said: “After a decade of brutal Tory and Lib Dem welfare cuts, as well as the two child cap and rape clause, and the shambolic Universal Credit system that has plunged thousands of people into poverty, this cynical benefits freeze announcement is little more than a drop in the ocean.”

He called for the freeze to be ended immediately instead of waiting to April.

Homelessness charity Shelter called on ministers to go further to increase housing benefit.

"Balanced approach"

Chief executive Polly Neate said: “While the Government may have finally called time on its benefits freeze, the proposed rise in support is so tiny it won’t make a dent in the damage already done.

“The truth is housing benefit is now so out of step with the cost of private renting, it will take a lot more to free families on lower incomes from the shackles of poverty and homelessness that many have become trapped by.”

About 2.5 million people on Universal Credit and millions more on legacy benefits will benefit, the Government said, ending the freeze that has been in place since April 2015.

The state pension will increase to £175.20 a week, meaning recipients will get an extra £344 a year.

Work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey said: “We’re clear the best way for people to improve their lives is through work, but we know some people require additional support.

“Our balanced fiscal approach has built a strong economy, with 3.6 million more people in work since 2010. And it’s that strong economy which allows us to bolster the welfare safety net by increasing benefit payments for working-age claimants now.”

The Resolution Foundation think-tank said the announcement was a missed opportunity.