Christian charities have expressed disappointment that the increase to universal credit hasn’t been made permanent.

Rishi Sunak, the chancellor of the exchequer, has announced the budget proposals for the next year. This was one of the most anticipated announcements for thousands of businesses and millions of people across the UK following nearly a year of the coronavirus pandemic and millions of people concerned for their future livelihood.

The UK economy is said to have faced its worst slump in three centuries: 700,000 people have lost their job in the past year, the economy dropped by 10 per cent, and the country’s borrowing is the highest it’s been since WW2. Millions of people are still on furlough, and it remains unclear whether businesses will recover sufficiently to ensure their jobs are retained.

The Government is optimistic that the measures announced in the budget will enable the economy to recover by mid-2022. As the Evangelical Alliance, we are interested in how the budget will impact the most vulnerable in society and how we can aid the COVID-19 recovery.


Benefits uplift

The universal credit uplift of £20 will continue for another six months as well as one-off payments of £500 to working tax credit claimants. While we welcome the extension, the £20 uplift makes a significant difference to the people who receive it, making the difference between surviving and eating well. Our members have recognised how making the uplift permanent would provide some security and put families at ease as economic challenges are likely to persist for many years to come.

Transforming Lives for Good responded to the six-month extension of the £20 per week uplift of universal credit, saying: While families do have some welcome short-term certainty, with unemployment expected to peak when the uplift is due to end, there will still be anxieties around what the future will look like. Both the chancellor and the secretary of state for work and pensions must confirm now that they are open to extending the uplift further for as long as it is needed.”

Paula Stringer, CEO of Christians Against Poverty, another member of the Evangelical Alliance, commented: We’re urging the Government to think again, do the right thing, and provide hope and certainty to those most in need during the difficult years ahead by making the uplift permanent.”

The benefits uplift is a significant way the Government has increased financial support during this crisis; however, many of the most vulnerable on other benefit systems have not received this uplift at all over the last year. Even with the changes announced, local churches will have to continue to respond to the needs of those struggling as they have in the past year.

Investing in the future

The Government committed to investment-led recovery and growth, with billions of pounds going towards regeneration, technology and culture. However, this feels disconnected with how people get by on a day-to-day basis and where the next pay check is going to come from.

Paula Stringer added: The announcements today have focused on future investment. They have not taken away the fear and anxiety millions are facing because of their limited finances. It will not provide people living on low incomes with certainty that they will be able to keep food on the table and heat their homes in the future.”

Responding to the need

However, the Government has committed to improving the Kickstart scheme to get more people into higher paying jobs. We recognise the importance of such initiatives and have been working on job creation as a key area of advocacy, to encourage and mobilise Christians to play a role in business development and job creation.

Danny Webster, head of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance, said: Christian entrepreneurs and business people are key to the recovery we want to see. We are passionate about encouraging and supporting Christians to create jobs and develop business that enable people to flourish and for their families to thrive. Whether this is adding one job in a small company or large-scale expansion, creating jobs can have a huge impact in helping people out of this crisis.”

Collective effort

The budget announcement has emphasised the size of the economic challenges ahead of the UK. But on a micro-level, we can see the challenges that are present in our communities now. Over the past year the church has strived to be a refuge for those in greatest need. Christian businesses have the opportunity to be part of the economic recovery by creating new jobs, but all of us as the body of Christ can support the wider recovery of our society.

Read more from Jerry Marshall, a Christian entrepreneur, on creating jobs in a time of crisis: https://​www​.eauk​.org/​n​e​w​s​-and-…

Other relevant measures

· The furlough scheme is being extended to the end of September. The scheme will continue to run as it did before, with employees obtaining 80 per cent of their salary while their workplaces are closed. However, from the summer, employers will have to contribute slightly more. More grants have been announced for those who are self-employed, which will be available until September.

· Various funds have been set aside to support different aspects of society including £19m for domestic violence programmes, such as respite rooms, £10m for veterans with mental health needs, and £700m for arts, culture and sport industries.

· The UK will set aside at least £15bn to tackle projects relating to climate change and environmental challenges.

· The UK-wide Recovery Scheme includes a wide variety of business loans ranging from £25,000 to £10m. The new Restart grant in April will offer up to £6,000 per premises to non-essential retail and up to £18,000 to personal care facilities and gyms, totalling to £5bn of new Restart grants.

· The Towns Fund provides support for 45 new town deals, with £1bn for immediate recovery and future social regeneration. The Community Ownership Fund (£150m) is designed to allow communities to preserve local landmarks such as pubs, theatres and sports clubs.

"Christian businesses have the opportunity to be part of the economic recovery by creating new jobs, but all of us as the body of Christ can support the wider recovery of our society."