Universal Credit – “unfair and unforgiving”

The government’s flagship Universal Credit (UC) programme is plunging millions of people into poverty, leaving them unable to pay rent or put a meal on the table, and causing them to face debt and eviction as a result.

In theory UC is a good idea that replaces six different types of social security.

Rather than getting multiple benefit payments that can include Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit, Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance, and Employment and Support Allowance, claimants get just one monthly payment.

However, there is one major problem. The budget for UC has been cut time and time again and eligible claimants have to wait six weeks or more for their first payment, supposedly replicating what it is like when they start their first job.

The consequence of this is that more and more people are falling into poverty, unable to buy enough food, and facing becoming homeless.

Where the UC roll-out has taken place, MPs have reported mothers being unable to feed their children properly, relying on free school meals and then having to resort to foodbanks during school holidays.

Frank Field MP, Labour Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, has said that the main foodbank in his Birkenhead constituency was seeking 15 tonnes of additional supplies before the arrival of UC this month.

Housing Associations say that 80% of rent arrears are down to UC and the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, predicts that rough sleeping will double in his area when UC is rolled out.

With many MP’s post bags full of similar stories, we would have expected the government to have listened and paused the roll-out of UC until it was fixed. They were, after all, warned as far back as 2013 that these problems would occur.

Instead, they are carrying on regardless and speeding up the process of roll-out before it is fit for purpose and safe for the expected seven million users of the programme.

The government is also ignoring a Commons vote on Labour’s motion calling for the controversial welfare plans to be put on hold which was passed by 299 votes to nil.

It isn’t only Labour that is calling for ending the six week first payment of UC and a pause in its roll-out until the problems are sorted out. It is also supported by Citizens Advice, Housing Associations, The Trussell Trust, and some senior Conservatives.

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Conservative Chair of the Health Select Committee, said “Why are we undermining a policy with potential to change lives for the better by not addressing a fundamental flaw at its heart?”

Former Prime Minister Sir John Major said more simply that UC was “operationally messy, socially unfair and unforgiving.”

We must continue to apply pressure on our local MPs to get the government to learn some of the lessons, reduce the six weeks wait and pause the roll-out of UC, before it brings further misery to Tonbridge benefit claimants in August 2018 and Tunbridge Wells claimants in September 2018.

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