The question came amid pressure from MPs, charities and campaigners, who are calling on the Government to extend the temporary Universal Credit uplift. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced the one-year boost – worth more than £1,000 per year per claim – in March 2020, in response to the coronavirus crisis.
In a question to the Prime Minister on Wednesday, the Westminster Leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) Ian Blackford highlighted statistics on child poverty.
“New research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the baby bank charity Little Village has revealed that 1.3 million children under five in the United Kingdom are living in poverty,” he said.
“That is a truly shocking figure that should make this Tory Government utterly ashamed.
“The Scottish National party has repeatedly called for a financial package to boost household incomes and reverse this Tory child poverty crisis.
READ MORE: State pension payments are rising in April 2021 – are you eligible?
“The Prime Minister has the power to tackle child poverty right now by making the £20 uplift to universal credit permanent and extending it to legacy benefits.
“The Tory Government have been stalling on this for months. Will the Prime Minister finally act, or will he leave millions of children out in the cold?”
Responding to the question, Mr Johnson said the Government will put their “arms around” Britons throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
He said: “The whole House and this country should be proud of the way in which we have tried to look after people—the poorest and neediest families throughout the country—not just with Universal Credit, which the Opposition would actually abolish, but by helping vulnerable people with their food and heating bills through the £170million winter grant scheme, and looking after people with the free school meal vouchers.
“As I have said before, we will put our arms around the people of the entire country throughout the pandemic.”
The Government is understood to currently be reviewing the Universal Credit uplift, amid the calls for an extension to the boost.
According to reports earlier this week, Mr Johnson is expected to side with the Chancellor regarding a shorter extension to the uplift.
The Times reports his support for Mr Sunak on the matter comes amid a cabinet split over an extension to the £20 per week uplift for six months rather than a year.
The Chancellor is reportedly locked in a battle with Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey, over when to remove the uplift.
The Government has said the cost of the measure comes in at £6billion per year.
Elsewhere during the House of Commons session on Wednesday, Mr Johnson added: “I do not believe that any Government could have done more to help the people of this country throughout this pandemic, and we will continue to do so.
“Yes, of course we bitterly lament and reject the poverty that some families unquestionably suffer.
“It is tragic that too many families have had a very tough time during the pandemic, but we will continue to support them in all the ways that we have set out.”
Following his comments, Thomas Lawson, chief executive at Turn2us, said: “The government has taken some bold and ambitious actions to stop people from being swept in poverty by this pandemic.
“However, much more can still be done.
“It is concerning to think the government thinks it has done all it can: the majority of the country thinks the opposite.
“This should act as a spur for Ministers to double down and focus on solving child poverty. A strong start would be to announce a commitment to the £20 uplift to Universal Credit.”