PCS Calls For Universal Credit To Be Smashed!

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Demonstration outside Parliament against the ‘hostile environment’ created by Universal Credit

‘THROUGH our Universal Credit Fact Versus Fiction campaign, PCS is exposing the massive problems with a system that we say needs to be scrapped and replaced,’ the civil servants union said launching a fresh fight to put an end to the hated benefit system.

The union said: ‘PCS continues to oppose the huge cuts to the overall welfare budget made by the current and previous government and believe that without investment, both in our social security system, and in the staff who deliver it, the serious problems being faced by both our members and those using the system will worsen.

‘We have consistently made representations to DWP about the level of stress existing across Universal Credit Service Centres and, increasingly now, in the jobcentres, where staff are also being used to clear Universal Credit (UC) tasks. Despite this, DWP has refused to work with PCS.

‘We have fundamental concerns with the UC system and believe that without resolution, the system will fail the most vulnerable in our society and have a significant detrimental impact on UC claimants and their dependents.

‘In a series of articles and social media posts we are cutting through the expensive spin that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) is trying to put on Universal Credit and also highlighting the experiences of the people on the frontline who are trying to deliver it.

‘Our key demands on Universal Credit are:

  • Halt the roll-out.
  • Allow claimants to determine their own payment interval; flexibility on this has been won for claimants in Scotland.
  • Legislation for a new emergency payment to supplement UC, to prevent evictions due to rent arrears, late payments and benefit underpayments.

‘As part of our series of articles cutting through the DWP’s spin about Universal Credit we look at some of the key statistics about the benefit.

‘£3 billion – annual amount taken out of the welfare budget in work allowance cuts alongside a freeze on benefit rates, the two-child limit, and the scrapping of the “limited capability for work” element for disabled people.

‘£3,441 – average amount almost half of low-income households examined in research produced the Children’s Commission will lose because of the combined impact of UC, 2-child limit and benefits cap.

‘Five weeks of in-built delay in the system from the moment the claim is started, although many claimants have been made to wait much longer.

‘52% – percentage increase in food bank use over the past 12 months in areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out, leaving many without enough money to cover the basics

‘49% – percentage of food bank referrals made due to a delay in benefits being paid in UK that were linked to Universal Credit, according to the Trussell Trust.’

Rent arrears for hundreds of North Tyneside’s council tenants have increased to more than a £1m after they were moved onto the controversial benefit.

Data revealed by the council in response to a freedom of information request showed the combined value of the arrears owed by these tenants was £1,163,093 on March 25th this year.

Of the 2,005 tenants on Universal Credit, 1,449 were already in arrears when they first claimed the new benefit owing the council £726,903 between them.

This means the rent owed by these tenants has increased by £436,190 an average of £301 for each person in arrears.

People in North Tyneside started to be transferred onto Universal Credit, a scheme which rolls six benefits into one monthly payment, in May last year.

Universal Credit has been an extremely expensive system to roll out. An advertisement features in a national newspaper cost the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) cost more than £225,000, it has been confirmed.

There was mass protests against Universal Credit in towns and cities across the UK on August 1st.

In Nottingham, members of trade union Unite Community protested in Nottingham’s Old Market Square.

Universal Credit has been branded a ‘shambles’ and ‘not worth the hassle’ by Nottingham supporters of a campaign to scrap the controversial scheme.

Keri Howe, the chairwoman of the branch, said the stall next to the Left Lion had been visited by a number of people over the day.

She said: ‘One of the biggest issues with the scheme is that you’ve got to be online to apply for it.

‘A lot of people are seeing their local libraries closing so if they don’t have access to the internet at home they are stuck.

‘We’ve seen first hand the difficulties Universal Credit has with people and the knock-on effect it causes.

‘Nottingham has some of the highest levels of child poverty in the UK.

‘The UK is the fifth richest country in the world. Our kids deserve better than what is being offered.

‘There is no excuse for the government to be implementing policies like Universal Credit, which the government knows are causing children to go without food.

‘Poverty is a political choice. Poverty harms a child’s education, It’s well known that poverty contributes to involvement in crime and the effect of poverty in childhood lasts a lifetime.’

The union has also released the results of a survey which claims the new benefit is resulting in thousands of children going hungry this summer.

More than four-fifths (79 per cent) of parents in a survey of more than 1,000 Universal Credit claimants said they found it hard to make ends meet during the school holidays, according to the new research.

It suggested many had been put into debt and forced to rely on food banks or the help of friends and family.

Lisa Shipstone, 39, of Ruddington, said: ‘I’m in full support of scrapping it and getting rid of the bad headlines it constantly throws up.

‘People are being punished by bureaucracy through the delays. These are the most vulnerable in our society.’

Nottingham City Council has also opposed the roll out of Universal Credit.

The legacy benefits which Universal Credit is replacing are:

  • Child Tax Credit.
  • Housing Benefit.
  • Income Support.
  • Income-based Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA).
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
  • Working Tax Credit.

Meanwhile, the number of people applying for ‘crisis grants’ in Scotland is at the highest ever level.

In 2018/19, 193,230 individuals applied for crisis grants – up 11% from the 174,295 who applied in the previous year.

Crisis loans are part of the Scottish Welfare Fund, established by the Scottish government in 2013 in response to the UK government abolishing two benefits – community care grants and crisis loans – for those in exceptional circumstances.

People on low incomes in Scotland can apply for a crisis grant in the case of an emergency or disaster, for example if there is a fire in their home or if they are at risk of sleeping on the street.

The amount of money paid out in crisis grants in Scotland is also at its highest ever rate, up 14% from £9.1m in 2017/18 to £10.3m in 2018/19.

The Scottish Welfare Fund is part of an annual package of over £125m to mitigate against the impact of UK government welfare cuts.

Shirley-Anne Somerville, Scottish Secretary for Social Security and Older People, said: ‘We would much rather these resources were invested in anti-poverty measures than protecting our people from government cuts – a position the UN Special Rapporteur on Poverty recently described as outrageous and unsustainable.

‘The fact that so many households in Scotland are in need of emergency financial help is appalling, and a sad indictment of the UK government’s record on austerity and welfare changes.

‘As their welfare cuts continue to cause harm and damage, we continue to do our best to mitigate against them and provide financial support to low-income families and carers through new social security benefits.’