Essex's leaders have defended the government's decision to reduce benefit payments by as much as 22% for some of the poorest in the county.

In total, around 79,800 Essex households received Universal Credit in May 2021.

They all face a £20 reduction in their Universal Credit pay-out now that the government's temporary Covid-19 uplift has come to an end.

More than 20,000 households - made up of single people without children - face a Universal Credit payment reduction of 22%, Essex County Council has calculated.

For households receiving the average weekly payment of £188.49, the loss of £20 represents an 11% reduction in their weekly entitlement.

Around a quarter of households - approximately 20,200 homes - receive less than £92 each week.

The uplift accounted for at least 21% of their entitlement.

Another quarter - 21,400 homes - receive over £253 per week, for whom the uplift accounts for 8% of their entitlement at most.

Essex County Council fears that single people without children who do not pay rent are the most "exposed" group.

They are entitled to roughly £89.66 per week.

Councillor Chris Whitbread, who is responsible for finance, resources and corporate affairs at County Hall, said grants have been made available which will mean residents won't lose out this winter.

Cllr Whitbread said: "There has been direct support for the most financially vulnerable throughout the pandemic, not least through the Essential Living Fund, worth a total of around £2.5 million.

"The majority of this has gone to families with children and single parents through the provision of food or fuel cards, and essential items such as bedding, replacement fridges and ovens."

The Essential Living Fund is an Essex-wide scheme.

Cllr Whitbread added: "An announcement has been made for further support for vulnerable households through the £500m Household Support Fund.

"Essex will receive £9.437m to support us through to March 31, 2022, of which at least 50% will support family households.

"This will help us to continue to support the most financially vulnerable with essential household costs such as food and essentials linked to energy and water."