Socialist Worker

Cruelty of Tories’ benefit promises revealed as Universal Credit claims rise

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2698

Wait times for advice on UC are becoming longer

Wait times for advice on UC are becoming longer (Pic: Sam Carpenter/flickr)


Nearly half a million people put in claims for Universal Credit (UC) in a nine-day period as the coronavirus crisis hit. The figure underlines how the Tory pledge to pay 80 percent of some workers’ wages is nowhere near enough to protect everyone.

Workers are being thrown out of jobs as restaurants, pubs, shops and services close down. They now face a horrifying battle to claim benefits – and have no idea how long they will wait before receiving any cash.

Andrew from Luton got through to the UC helpline on the third attempt. He was on the phone for nearly three hours – following two previous calls of an hour and two hours.

Andrew told Socialist Worker, “They’ve given me a date for a telephone interview in early April. It’s ridiculous because you fill in lots of things online, but then you have to make this phone call. And all they do is make an appointment for another call.

“It’s just a barrier to put people off claiming.”

Some 477,000 claims for UC were made between Monday of last week and Wednesday. Tens of thousands of people have been trapped in lengthy telephone or online queues.

Andrew explained that he urgently needs benefits to live. “I’m living with my parents who are both at high risk regarding coronavirus due to their age,” he said. “I can’t stay here, so I’m moving to a friend’s house and I’ll need to pay rent.”

The swathe of job losses as coronavirus bites has lifted a lid on the awful working conditions faced by so many people.

Degree

Andrew got a First class degree last year. Yet he has suffered months of working in insecure, short-term jobs.

“I had a bit of sales work and field marketing work when I was studying,” he said. “At the end of it I asked for a regular contract.

“They gave me five days a week, but they would only tell me what I was doing the day before. I got sent to different places. And if they didn’t have anything for me, they just wouldn’t answer the phone.

“I’ve been to 13 different employment agencies, and only one gave me any work.”

He was on the verge of a permanent job when the virus hit.

“The agency sent me to a warehouse as a temp,” he said. “They said after 13 weeks everyone was likely to be made permanent. After four days in the warehouse, coronavirus strikes.”

And Andrew argued the system should be transformed in order to support vulnerable people.

“They need to make it easier to claim benefits, and cut that phone call out,” he said. “They should take on a lot more staff while this crisis is going on. The amount of money is just £94 a week – it should be better than that.

“I’ve been to 13 different employment agencies, and only one gave me any work.”

“They also need to suspend all the conditions that go with these benefits. They can’t seriously say anyone should be looking for work at the moment – there’s no work to take. You can’t even go out of your front door to speak to an agency.”

And he warned that “mixed messages” from the government, plus poverty benefits, would still push people to work and risk their safety. “I’ve never lived on as little as £94 a week,” he said. “So I’ll still go for any job that I see, even though we are supposed to be staying at home.”

The Tories will have blood on their hands if they leave half a million people penniless with a lengthy wait for meagre benefits. Activists, trade unionists and campaigners need to demand much more far-reaching measures to keep people safe and supported.

“There could be some kind of universal payment to everyone,” said Andrew. “That wouldn’t cost as much as they paid to bail out the banks in 2008.

“You hear about Universal Credit and think it’s not very nice. But you don’t realise that you are not that far from being in quite a desperate position yourself.

“The coronavirus crisis has exposed a very cruel system.”


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