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In March 2020, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the standard allowances of Universal Credit and the basic element of Working Tax Credit would be increased temporarily by £20 a week. This ‘uplift’, however, did not extend to the other working-age mean-tested benefits – the ‘legacy’ benefits – which are being replaced by Universal Credit. This has been a source of contention ever since. There are currently 1.76 million claimants of these means-tested legacy benefits in Great Britain.

The Government’s rationale for not extending the uplift to other legacy benefits is that the increase to UC and WTC at the beginning of the pandemic was intended to support people newly unemployed or experiencing reduced incomes and therefore new to the benefits system, who have mostly been claiming Universal Credit. Ministers and officials at the Department for Work and Pensions have also commented that delivering a temporary increase as quickly as was achieved in UC and WTC would not have been possible in the legacy system for operational reasons.

Various welfare rights groups and campaigning organisations (in addition to opposition politicians and others) have, however, throughout the pandemic called for the uplift to be extended to legacy benefits. They have argued, for instance, that legacy benefit claimants (including disabled people and carers) have experienced increased living costs during the pandemic, without the same support afforded to those on UC or WTC.

This issue is now also the subject of a legal challenge by two claimants of income-related Employment and Support Allowance who argue that the Government’s decision not to extent the uplift to their benefit has discriminated against them as disabled people, in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights.

This paper updates our Insight on this topic which was published in May last year: Commons Library Insight, Coronavirus: Increases to benefits payments, 27 May 2020).

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