Ministers will decide “soon” whether to extend the £20-a-week increase in Universal Credit (UC), the Work and Pensions Secretary has said.
Therese Coffey said the Government wanted to extend its support “throughout the impact” of the coronavirus pandemic, but declined to guarantee that the uplift would remain.
She said she was in “active discussion” with the Chancellor over whether to keep the increase in place beyond March.
The uplift was originally announced last year to support struggling families through the Covid-19 crisis but it is due to expire at the end of March.
However, Rishi Sunak is under intense pressure, including from some Tory MPs, to extend it while lockdown restrictions remain in place.
He has so far resisted the calls, insisting he needs to start rebuilding public finances after the massive support the Government has given to nurse the economy through the pandemic.
Ms Coffey told BBC Breakfast: “We are hand in glove with the Treasury, working through to make sure we provide the best support to people throughout this pandemic…
“I can assure you that we are in active consideration of the options on how to best support people during this time and I hope we will be able to come to a decision soon.”
She added: “We are working very closely with the Treasury so that we can make sure that we have the best decision which I hope the Prime Minister will be able to announce shortly.”
Ms Coffey later told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that UC had been a “lifeline” and said the Government wants to try to “extend our support throughout the impact of this pandemic”.
Asked whether that meant the uplift or other extra support will stay for the rest of this year, she said: “I think it is fair to say that I’m in active discussion with the Chancellor and of course with the Prime Minister about how we continue to make sure we support families during this difficult time.”
Meanwhile, Downing Street did not deny reports that a £1,000 one-off payment was being considered as a replacement for the £20 weekly UC increase.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said no decisions had yet been made on what support to offer once the £20 uplift expires.
“Throughout this crisis we have made sure we have looked after those who are most vulnerable and we will continue to assess the economic and health context to decide how best to continue to support people who need our help,” the spokesman said.
“It remains the case that the uplift to Universal Credit still has some months left to run until April and no decisions have been made on it further to that.”
Asked whether Boris Johnson backed a £1,000 lump-sum payment for people claiming UC, the spokesman said: “It is a matter for the Chancellor, but again I would point to the support that we have provided to people on low incomes and those who are the most vulnerable in society throughout the pandemic.”