Tory benefit changes are leaving people with no money to buy food.
Gemma, (not her real name) is one of over a million people who have been transferred onto the hated Universal Credit (UC) benefit. She told Socialist Worker she and her partner “had to wait six weeks before any payment was made”.
“We had no food or electric,” she said. “I blacked out due to not having eaten for three days.”
UC has driven up food bank use, debt and arrears—and things are set to get worse. Millions of poorer families will lose £200 a month as UC is rolled out, work and pensions minister Esther McVey has reportedly told the cabinet.
She admitted the cut will hit around half of all single parents and two thirds of working age couples with children.
Paula Peters is a Disabled People Against Cuts and Unite Community union activist. She told Socialist Worker the cut would mean “more poverty and more evictions”.
“There have been deaths linked to Universal Credit payment delays,” she added. “Claimants have developed mental health problems. It’s ramping up mental distress.” Gemma agreed. “Being on UC just over a year now has had a serious impact on my health,” she said.
“We were constantly borrowing money from family which made us feel awful.
“The stress and hassle made us both very ill.”
Food bank use has soared by over 50 percent on average in areas where UC has been in place for at least a year.
The Trussell Trust charity warned last week that millions more will be driven to use food banks when UC is rolled out further next April.
East London food bank worker Marianne Williamson told Socialist Worker, “There will be hunger and terror about not being able to look after your children properly.
“There will be more suicides and an explosion of ill-health.”
Claimants are left with no money for weeks while switching to UC. As claimant Jennifer told Socialist Worker, “For four and a half months I was left living off child benefit and five hours a week wages with three kids.
“UC needs to be got rid of.”
Many claimants say they are worse off under UC—and often by more than £200 a month. Debt repayments can be automatically deducted.
Gemma said that money is deducted despite claimants being given “no evidence of arrears”.
And figures in August showed that benefit sanctions under UC are at least nine times higher than for the benefits it replaces.
Claimant Liz told Socialist Worker, “Universal Credit is deliberately difficult and demeaning. You jump through hoops and they still penalise you.”
Jayne, another claimant, said her money had been slashed under UC. “I’m a grand in rent arrears now,” she said. “I was in credit when I changed to UC in August.”
“I’m ruined because of it,” added claimant Kerry. “I’ve already had to take £1,100 in a loan just to survive.”
The Tories claim UC simplifies the benefits system. In reality it helps them to withhold money from claimants and terrorise low paid workers.
And they knew the £200 cut was coming. Frank Field MP, who chairs the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee, said the cuts were “always planned”.
Gemma said, “They could not care less. They do not want people to get a job and better themselves.
“They want poor people under their thumb.”
Gemma and others hope that Labour will scrap UC if elected. The party disappointed campaigners at its conference last month by promising to launch a year-long “review” of UC.
Last weekend shadow chancellor John McDonnell told Sky News, “I think we are moving towards a conclusion that you can’t save the thing.” But that isn’t a clear commitment to scrapping UC. And it isn’t enough to wait for a Labour government when Tory attacks are causing misery now.
Paula said, “McDonnell said that Universal Credit could go. It’s still very lacklustre and there’s no firm commitment.
“Eventually there will be seven million claimants impacted by Universal Credit. We cannot afford to be complacent and we need to keep the pressure on Labour.”
Gemma said, “You cannot survive on what little money they pay you. The scheme needs to be scrapped.”