Published: 14:03, 17 September 2021
| Updated: 16:24, 17 September 2021
A total of 19 community groups across Thanet have signed an open letter asking for a u-turn on the imminent Universal Credit reduction.
Currently those who claim Universal Credit are seeing their payments boosted by £20 per week as part of an uplift scheme to support people through the pandemic - this is set to be scrapped at the end of the month.
The letter addressed to the government outlines the specific impact this will have on Thanet as Universal Credit income is set to drop by £1,040 per year, or £86 per month.
The district suffers some of the worst deprivation levels in the county according to the Kent County Council analytics department, with one in three children classed as living in poverty and one in four households claiming Universal Credit.
The impending cuts as the £20 uplift is scrapped will impact 18,839 residents in Thanet - of these 34% are in employment.
Community and opposition groups fear that unless the government reverse their decision, many of these residents will no longer be able to afford rent, food and utility bills.
Cllr Rob Yates (Labour) said: "This £86 per month is a lifeline for the 18,839 people claiming Universal Credit in Thanet and their dependents, especially as food prices start to rise."
Cllr Yates continued: "The community of Thanet fully back this letter asking for this lifeline to be kept - from religious groups, foodbanks, education institutions, community groups, to the local Margate artist Tracey Emin.
"Together we all see the issues and problems locally, and we know we need to keep this safeguard in place for those who need it the most."
The letter was also signed by East Kent Mind, an independent charity caring for the mental well-being of residents in East Kent.
It said: “East Kent Mind is very concerned at any reduction of income for those on Universal Credit. If the cut goes ahead, areas of high deprivation across Kent will see increased levels of poor mental health and wellbeing including depression, anxiety and it will most likely have the greatest impact on residents who already suffer from severe mental health.
"A government resource even says that ‘It is well established that deprivation (a lack of money, resources and access to life opportunities) or being in a position of relative disadvantage (having significantly less resource than others) is associated with poorer health, including mental health'."
The letter also touches on the wider impact on the economy in Thanet, with fears that the cuts would not only impact those claiming Universal Credit, but businesses in the area would suffer secondary consequences.
It claims that the reduction would mean the spending power of Thanet would reduce by £19.5 million per year - negatively impacting local businesses and leading to further unemployment in the area.
Frank Macklin, from GMB Trade Union said: "Enough is enough, for years now the Conservative government has continued to hit the poorest members of society, whilst continuing to cut taxes for their donors and rich friends.
"The cut in Universal Credit comes as a double blow after the vote to increase National Insurance contributions. This will see the poorest in our society lose £20 a week and they will also have to pay an increase of 1.25%, effectively hitting them from both ends at the same time.
"It would appear that the Prime Minister and his cabinet hold the poorest people in our society in total contempt, they should hold their heads in shame."
Margate artist Tracey Emin CBE RA is among those listed as supporters of the letter.
It comes as the government has come under constant fire, with top UN officials and shadow ministers urging Rishi Sunak to scrap the planned cuts, with warnings half a million could be plunged below the poverty line.