Socialist Worker

Universal Credit means Tories steal benefits from poorest to pay for debts

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2599

Claimants and others have long fought Tory attacks on benefits and sanctions

Claimants and others have long fought Tory attacks on benefits and sanctions (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Thousands of Universal Credit (UC) benefit claimants are having 40 percent of their income snatched away to repay debts.

The deductions leave poor people worse off—and more vulnerable to getting further into debt.

And the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is allowed to take more money from UC to repay claimants’ debts than from other benefits.

It’s yet another confirmation that UC is a mechanism for the Tories to take more money from the poorest.

Figures following a parliamentary question showed that 6 percent of all UC full service claims had 40 percent deducted from their standard allowance to pay debt.

And some claimants have had more than 40 percent of their money deducted.

Some of this goes to repay rent or council tax arrears. But a third of UC deductions go to repay overpayments.

Poor people are being saddled with months of repayments because of officials’ mistakes.

Universal Credit Survival is a Facebook group for claimants. They describe contacting the HMRC tax agency to inform it they shouldn’t receive tax credits any longer—only for the payments to continue.

Paying

One woman said she continued to receive tax credits for six weeks after doing so. “I’m still paying this back 18 months later,” she said.

A Freedom of Information request showed that some 95,620 UC claimants had deductions made due to tax credit debt between April 2016 and October 2017.

The Tory claim that UC is about helping poorer people is an insulting lie. Even their most senior welfare adviser, Paul Gray, admits it will create “substantially more losers than gainers”.

And report after report explains the different ways that UC will make claimants’ lives harder.

The Resolution Foundation thinktank said the switch to UC will leave 3.2 million “working families” on average £48 a week worse off.

And around 600,000 of them, mainly couples with children, will no longer be entitled to any benefits at all.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank said 100,000 children will miss out on free school meals when UC is fully rolled out.

And charity Citizens Advice found that higher deductions were pushing more claimants to use foodbanks to survive.

Gray warned this week that there will be a backlash against UC once people realise how much they will lose.

It should be a big challenge for the Tories. They are on the attack but they also fear widescale resistance.

Activists should take advantage of their weakness and organise to scrap their attacks on claimants.


Benefits workers threaten walkouts

A threat of strikes has forced Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) bosses to promise improvements to the service provided to Universal Credit benefit claimants.

They have also promised improvements to workers’ conditions.

PCS union members showed they were prepared to strike over conditions at a mass car park meeting last week.

These workers felt high levels of stress and unable to provide a reasonable level of service to benefit claimants.

Important case management work was being neglected as the staff were being made to spend excessive amounts of time dealing with telephone calls.

Not dealing with this work led to even more phone calls.

Meeting

At the car park meeting at Walsall Service Centre, 86 out of 88 union members present indicated they were prepared to strike.

Workers’ determination forced management to announce major concessions.

Telephone work is to be organised in much shorter slots and 130 staff ring-fenced for telephoning are to be reallocated to case manager work.

Staffing shortages remain an issue.

The union is calling for the remaining 20 fixed term appointment (FTA) staff at the site to be made permanent.

It also wants the same for all other FTAs in the Department for Work and Pensions.

Steve West, PCS DWP group executive committee (personal capacity)


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