Scrap Universal Credit

Paula Peters gives some of the reasons why

In recent months, Universal Credit has come under increasing scrutiny and criticism from the Archbishop of Canterbury, The National Audit Office, Labour MPs and many grass roots activists and campaigns highlighting the horrors of the policy that is Universal Credit.

It’s pushing claimants further into poverty, and personal stories show Universal Credit is causing horrendous harm and distress.

In areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out, like Newcastle for instance, the use of food banks has risen 90%. The DWP say that Universal Credit makes work pay, but when the DWP claw back 63p from every £1 you earn, and with payment delays of up to 13 weeks in some areas, claimants are left with little choice but to apply for an advance payment to pay the rent or face eviction. 40% of that advance payment the claimant has to start paying back immediately. The government is turning into a loan shark and employing debt collection agencies to claw that debt back.

With the ever-increasing rise of zero hours contracts and the gig economy, people are trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty. The nightmare that is the claimant commitment, the hoops the Job Centre force the claimant to go through, have seen sanctions rocket. With Universal Credit an on-line application, one third of 13 million disabled people have no access to a computer and do not know how to use one, and with the closure of libraries, how do claimants access the benefits system? Simply put, they can’t.

This heinous policy will hit you if you are in or out of work. If you are in work and you need Housing Benefit to top up your rent, you will be hit. If you have child or working tax credits, you will be hit. Eight million households will be impacted.

If you are on legacy benefits right now and report a change of circumstances – for example, you move home, you move out of area, or your health condition worsens – the DWP will move you on to Universal Credit. I have been contacted by people who wanted to move but couldn’t because they were too afraid of Universal Credit and the horrors it brings and felt unable to cope with it. It is stopping social mobility.

Disabled people will be particularly hit hard when migrated over to Universal Credit from 2019 and reassessed with a Work Capability Assessment. If you are moved from the support group to Work-Related Activity group you will lose £40 a week, plunging you further into poverty. Under this policy Severe Disablement Payments do not exist, meaning the loss of vital money disabled people need to live on.

Then we have the injustice that is the awful policy called the ‘rape clause’ that is now part of the child tax credit and the two-child limit rule, but allowed women to claim if a child was born without their consent. Esther McVey said it gave women the opportunity to talk about their situation to people who were not their health worker. What, a work coach or Job Centre advisor? Talking to people with no training who could traumatise the woman even further? Where is the outraged reaction we need to see to this?

The heart of Universal Credit is punitive punishment with the safety net being ripped away. Financial insecurity comes first, with the endgame being the abolition of the welfare state itself. It is an ideological policy designed to ramp up distress and harm and stop you claiming at all.

We see now the co-productive working of the DWP/NHS, with mental health claimants top of the DWP target list for forced cognitive behavioural therapy in Job Centres. This is coercion and bullying. If you don’t take the treatment you will be sanctioned. It is all part of the claimant commitment and the hoops you have to go through. Look for work 35 hours a week and take a job where you have to travel 90 minutes each way is the message.

Unite, CWU, RMT and the TUC have called for Universal Credit to be stopped and scrapped, but at the recent Labour Party Conference the position – pause and fix – remains the same. You can’t fix a system built to fail. We need everyone to ramp the pressure on Labour to change its policy. We need you to join the campaign.

We need a social security system that supports in-work and out-of-work claimants, with a safety net in place. That’s a system we all need to talk about and make happen.

Paula Peters

Paula Peters is a member of Disabled People Against Cuts