Socialist Worker

Why Universal Credit cannot be fixed

by Dave Sewell
Issue No. 2582

Universal Credit was all part of Iain Duncan Smiths plan to clamp down on benefits claimants

Universal Credit was all part of Iain Duncan Smith's plan to clamp down on benefits claimants (Pic: Brian Minkoff - London Pixels)


There is growing anger about the effects of Universal Credit (UC). So what’s to be done?

Labour’s policy, as summed up in the slogan of planned protests next week, is to “pause and fix” it. A better one might be “stop and scrap”.

UC is beyond fixing. At its core is a drive to use the benefits system to monitor and manipulate the poor.

UC replaces jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), employment support allowance (ESA), housing benefit, income support, working tax credit and child tax credit.

It combines them into one monthly payment. This is presented as simplifying the benefits system, which sounds reasonable.

But the difficulty the Tories have had implementing it hints at the truth.

Replacing several simpler databases with one more complicated one can make the total more complicated.

That’s not always a terrible thing, but you’d need a compelling reason to do it. And the Tories have one.

Getting all the information about someone’s benefits in one place makes it easier to check up on them—and punish them.

Take the benefit cap. People receive different benefits to meet different needs. Paying the rent doesn’t feed and clothe the children, or vice versa. So housing benefit and child benefit claims can be handled separately.

But the government wanted to make a show of scapegoating, and clamping down on, the households who claimed the most in total. For that it needed to link their payments together.

UC is the brainchild of Iain Duncan Smith who, after failing as Tory leader, reinvented himself with a crusade to change the poor. The Tories and the rich pretend that poverty is caused not by their system but by the failings or bad decisions of those at the bottom.

Ducking right wing arguments only entrenches them. Scapegoating must be confronted, not pandered to

Duncan Smith, armed with a think tank and the odd theatrical tear, said he could improve those people’s decisions by taking money off them. Tory concerns about an interfering “nanny state” don’t apply to everyone.

Duncan Smith’s bedroom tax means people can get their full housing benefit only if they move to a smaller home.

“Only if” provisions like this are called “conditionalities”. Two of the worst were introduced by the last Labour government.

You can get ESA only if you keep proving you’re sick enough. You can get JSA only if you jump through hoops to prove you’re looking hard enough for work.

UC extends JSA’s “sanctions” to low paid workers, who must now prove that they’re looking for more or better paid work. It denies child benefit to children with two older siblings—Duncan Smith’s Victorian mission to stop the poor breeding.

Once in place it will make it easier to impose more conditionalities.

The drive to do this partly comes from bosses hoping to cut labour costs.

Making life a nightmare for the unemployed and underemployed can help frighten workers into accepting worse conditions rather than risk joining them.

The Labour right hates UC because it replaced Working Tax Credit, a subsidy for a low wage economy that they are perversely proud of introducing.

But they accept its logic and won’t oppose it on principle. Even the Labour left is nervous about losing votes by looking too “soft” on benefit claimants.

But ducking right wing arguments only entrenches them. Scapegoating must be confronted, not pandered to.

Universal Credit gives the rich an extra weapon against the poor. It must be smashed.


Around 60 protests were set to take place across Britain on Saturday over Universal Credit (UC). Called by the Unite union’s Community section, they demand that UC’s rollout is paused and UC is “fixed”.

That’s Labour’s policy— and it doesn’t go far enough. Disabled People Against Cuts (Dpac) has rightly campaigned for “stop and scrap”. Socialists should support protests against UC—and bring to them the demand to “stop and scrap”.

Day of action called by Unite Community, Sat 2 December, see bit.ly/2BbJEwf

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