Socialist Worker

‘Fortress mentality’ means Tories ignore ‘unacceptable hardship’ of Universal Credit

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2628

Tory minister Esther McVey (left) is in denial about the disaster of Universal Credit

Tory minister Esther McVey (left) is in denial about the disaster of Universal Credit (Pic: mrgarethm/Flickr)


The Tories’ hated Universal Credit benefit is causing “unacceptable hardship and difficulties” for many claimants, according to a new report from MPs. And the government’s “fortress mentality” means the Tories are refusing to acknowledge it, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report said.

It found that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has “persistently dismissed evidence that Universal Credit is causing hardship”. And the department “refuses to measure what it does not want to see”.

Claimant Emma is one of many people who has lost money by transferring onto UC. “The MPs aren’t listening to anyone,” she told Socialist Worker. “People are in poverty and in debt.

“They tell you that if your money hasn’t lasted, you haven’t budgeted. But if you haven’t got any money, you can’t budget. A lot of people are struggling. It isn’t possible to live on UC.”

The PAC report denounced the DWP’s “blinkered approach” and “culture of denial” relating to UC. There is widespread fury over the impact of the benefit, which replaces six other benefits and is being rolled out across Britain.

It has driven poor people further into poverty and destitution. Arrears for rent and other bills have gone up in areas where UC has been introduced, as has food bank use.

“It’s half term but I have no money to take my son out,” said Emma. “We are living off a food bank. I can’t afford to turn the heating on so I’m crippled with arthritis.

“The mere thought of Christmas is causing me distress. I can’t tell a five year old that Santa won’t be coming but have no way of buying presents.”

Criticise

Ellie Waugh heads the charity Humanity Torbay, which aims to help vulnerable people. The charity was working with the Tories – but on the condition that it did not criticise policies such as UC.

Waugh posted a video defying that condition this week. “I’ve been threatened and told to keep my mouth shut about Universal Credit,” she said.

“I’ve been told we won’t get any helps or grants or anything. As the CEO of Humanity, I have made the decision to speak out and say this is not right.”

Waugh said that the Tory benefit regime is pushing people into horrendous situations.

“I don’t think people realise how bad it is,” she said. “People are finding themselves homeless and on the street because of Universal Credit.

“We have had to give out absolutely loads of sleeping bags and tents. It makes me bloody angry.

“I’ve got people desperate. People self-harming, threatening suicide, taking crack, taking heroin. I know at least ten girls who are now working as prostitutes because they can’t afford to feed their families.

“I’m not keeping my mouth shut anymore.”

The government was forced to delay the rollout of UC again last month. But importantly the PAC report said this is “not a solution on its own”.

It gives a damning picture of what life is like on UC. Claimants face an initial five-week wait for payment. Around a fifth don’t receive their full payment on time. Disgracefully the government “does not expect the situation to improve significantly” this year.

Around 60 percent of claimants receive an advance while they wait for the benefit – “a clear indication that most claimants do not have enough money to cope”.

Deducted

Yet this “debt” is then deducted from UC at up to 40 percent of the benefit. “The Department’s own survey found that 40 percent of claimants were experiencing financial difficulties eight or nine months into their claim,” said the report.

One study found that claimants “can take 18-24 months to clear this debt”.

The report said the way claimants are treated by their “work coaches” leaves them “at risk of sanctions” and in some cases makes health conditions worse. And the support package to help claimants to adjust to UC is “not fit for purpose”.

The DWP “repeatedly” claimed that UC will get 200,000 people into work. Yet it is “unable to measure” this.

UC is a cruel mechanism to make poor people poorer. It aims to intimidate workers into accepting poor pay and conditions for fear of being pushed onto UC if they don’t.

It’s not enough just to delay the rollout – the whole thing should be scrapped now.


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