A WILTSHIRE charity has warned of the “devastating impact” of a scheduled cut to Universal Credit in April which could affect some of the poorest people in the county.

Staff and volunteers at Citizens Advice Wiltshire have helped 1,574 people with Universal Credit since March last year.

They say around 56 per cent of people in Wiltshire seeking advice on benefits have never contacted the charity before.

The charity, which has continued to provide one-to-one support throughout the pandemic, warns that local families could be pushed into further hardship if the £20 a week Universal Credit uplift ends as planned in April.

Suzanne Wigmore, chief executive officer of Citizens Advice Wiltshire, said: "In Wiltshire, the number of people claiming Universal Credit has risen 84 per cent since the pandemic started. More than 40 per cent of those now claiming Universal Credit in Wiltshire are in work.

"For households in the South West the loss of £20 a week is equivalent to two and a half days' food or over six days’ energy."

“We support people every day whose lives have been turned upside down by this pandemic. For many of them, Universal Credit is the lifeline that has helped pay the bills and put food on the table.

“But households across Wiltshire now face the devastating prospect of a £20 a week cut to their benefits in just a few short months.

“With a tough outlook in the jobs market, we’re urging the government to continue doing the right thing and maintain the Universal Credit uplift.”

A decision on whether to cut millions of families' Universal Credit by £20 a week is expected by April 12 and could affect up to 5.7 million claimants.

The Government raised Universal Credit by £1,040 for the 2020/21 financial year to help with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The “temporary” rise is due to end on April 12 when the standard allowance will be cut back to between £84.31 and £85.05 a month.

Critics of the cut say that will drive hundreds of thousands more people into poverty and affect 5.7 million Universal Credit claimants, 39 per cent of whom are already in work.

Citizens Advice Wiltshire says that many needing support from the benefits system have lost their job or suffered a Covid-19 pandemic.

To calculate how much £20 a week is equivalent to in everyday spending, Citizens Advice Wiltshire analysed the 2018-19 Living Costs and Food Survey, the latest available data.

Mrs Wigmore said: "This is a large, nationally representative survey run by the Office for National Statistics looking at household spending.

"To make sure we better reflect the likely experience of households on Universal Credit, we have only included households in the bottom half of the income distribution in our analysis. On average higher-income households spend more than lower-income households."

"The percentage increase in the number of people claiming Universal Credit since the pandemic relates to the period March to November.

"As of November 2020, 12,593 people (42 per cent) out of 29,656 claiming Universal Credit in Wiltshire were in work," Mrs Wigmore said.