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Press Release                        Embargo: 00:01am 6th October 2021


Universal Credit Cut Turns the Lights Out


Today sees the biggest ever overnight cut to the social security system with a £20/week cut to Universal Credit.  To mark the impact of this cut on local families the lights on Belfast City Hall will be turned off tonight from 8pm to 10pm. This is a powerful symbol of how this cut will impact families on low incomes quite simply turning their lights out, turning their heat off and taking food off their tables.

The cut will impact on over 100,000 families across Northern Ireland.*  It will be felt by those on the lowest incomes and will cause rising poverty, debt, homelessness, cold and hunger.  The Women’s Regional Consortium is worried about how women, who have already disproportionately paid the price for a decade of welfare reform changes, will cope with this overnight cut to their family budgets.

One woman told the Women’s Regional Consortium about the impact of the cut to Universal Credit on her life:

“This extra amount helps me to maintain a certain level but there are no luxuries, it’s just the basics!  It’s the cost of living, everything is going up, the cost of food, etc.  So really it’s not an extra if the cost of everything else has gone up.  It just helps me to maintain a basic level of life.  If they took it away, I’d really struggle.”

The cut takes place at a time when the cost of living is rising with increases in the cost of food and recent announcements about significant rises in the cost of gas and electricity. Yet at the same time many families on Universal Credit are losing £86 from their monthly incomes.  As women often act as the ‘shock absorbers’ of poverty in households the Women’s Regional Consortium is increasingly concerned about the inevitable choices many women will have to make between eating and heating. 

Research** has shown that Northern Ireland will feel the cut to Universal Credit the hardest hitting 36% of local non-pensioner households, the highest of all the UK regions.  It will also damage economic recovery resulting in a loss of over £139million/year from the Northern Ireland economy taking money out of local economies where it is spent and not saved.

At the start of the pandemic, the Chancellor said he was introducing the £20 increase to “strengthen the safety net”.  This was an acknowledgement that a decade of cuts and freezes to the benefits system had left it unable to provide adequate support to families.  Life is full of crises that we cannot plan for, such as job loss, illness, periods of lower earnings and caring responsibilities.  We all need the security and stability of a strong lifeline.  The benefits system must provide a proper safety net for people and families allowing them to afford the basics such as food, clothes and heat.

It is not too late for the Government to do the right thing.   The Women’s Regional Consortium calls on the Government to reinstate the £20 to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit at the Autumn Budget and ensure that families on legacy benefits, who were never given the £20 increase, are also included.



Further Information:

Siobhán Harding                                   T:  07764 224 360

Women’s Support Network                    E:

Research & Policy Officer


Notes to Editors:

  1. Universal Credit is a means-tested social security benefit for people on a low income or who are out of work. It replaces six ‘legacy’ benefits for working-age people – Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit.
  2. The Chancellor announced the £20/week increase to Universal Credit and Tax Credits as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic but it is due to end on 6th
  3. The Women’s Regional Consortium consists of seven established women’s sector organisations that are committed to working in partnership with each other, government, statutory organisations and women’s organisations, centres and groups in disadvantaged and rural areas, to ensure that organisations working for women are given the best possible support in the work they do in tackling disadvantage and social exclusion. The seven groups are Training for Women Network (TWN), Women’s Resource and Development Agency (WRDA), Women’s Support Network (WSN), Northern Ireland Rural Women’s Network (NIRWN), Women’s TEC, Women’s Centre Derry and Foyle Women’s Information Network (FWIN).


* Latest figures (May 2021) show that Northern Ireland has 134,070 Universal Credit claimants.  Lone parents (the majority of which are women) account for 32% of claimants.  A further 10% of payments are made to couples with children.  In total 44,000 households with children (almost 84,000 children) will be affected by the cut to Universal Credit.


** Resolution Foundation research shows the Universal Credit cut would hit 36% of non-pensioner households in Northern Ireland, the highest of all the UK regions.