ON SUNDAY the Guardian newspaper published a letter signed by 30 Labour MPs and the one Green Party MP expressing their concern about the proposed roll-out of Universal Credit (UC) in their constituencies during November and December this year.
They wrote: ‘There is a real worry that the introduction of UC at this time will cause extreme hardship for many people in vulnerable situations, exacerbated by the financial burdens of the festive period.’
Not that these MPs have any principled disagreement with the concept of Universal Credit as they make clear when they write:
‘We understand that the proposed changes were designed to make the social security system simpler, more reactive to individuals’ issues and more efficient. However, evidence from other parts of the country where UC has been introduced already, shows that it is far from the efficient system trailed. In many cases, recipients have had to wait seven weeks for payment of the benefits.
The letter concludes with an appeal to the Tory secretary of state, David Gauke, ‘to instruct his department not to roll this system out in November and December, but to look for a date later in 2018.’
Predictably this appeal got short shrift from the DWP. In July, the charity Citizens Advice produced evidence that 39% of those forced to claim the benefit were waiting over 6 weeks to receive their first payment and that of these 57% were forced into debt just to survive.
It highlighted the fact that applications had to be made online making it virtually inaccessible to those without access to the internet, forcing them to resort to lengthy telephone calls to the credit helpline charged at 10p a minute, with many having to hang on for 30 minutes just to get through.
The effects of Universal Credit were starkly revealed by the Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest food bank provider, when it announced in April that it provided 1,182,954 three-day emergency food parcels to people and families in 2016-2017, an increase of 6.4% over the previous year.
In those areas where Universal Credit had been fully rolled-out, the number of people being referred to food banks was more than double the national average. Universal Credit, which rolls six benefits (Jobseeker’s Allowance, Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Employment and Support Allowance and Income Support) into one, was first introduced last year in selected areas and will be extended across the country starting in the autumn.
This single capped benefit is paid into the claimant’s bank account, giving them the choice of whether to eat, heat or pay the rent because there is no way that there will be enough money to do all three!
Hence the sharp increase in reliance on food banks, debt and rent arrears leading to eviction.
Universal Credit was never anything more than an attack on the benefit system aimed at consolidating the cuts imposed by the Tories when they froze all benefits up to 2020, cuts the Tories boasted would drive people into taking any job, no matter how low paid, by making it impossible for them to exist on the benefits they are entitled to.
This is the system that these Labour MPs are begging the Tories to just delay until Christmas is over. This is in line with the Labour Party manifesto at the last general election, which deliberately left out any commitment to ending the benefit freeze and merely promised to review the cuts to work allowances under Universal Credit.
Unlike these Labour MPs, the working class has had enough of treacherous pledges to make Tory austerity cuts work more efficiently. The only way forward is to put an end to Universal Credit and all austerity attacks by insisting that the trade unions take action to defend the working class by calling a general strike to kick out this weak Tory government and replace it with a workers government that will carry out socialist policies.
A workers government that will nationalise the banks and major industries and use the wealth which is created by the working class to restore all benefits and develop a socialist economy that works in the interests of all working people.