Unite Day of Action against Universal Credit!

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Yesterday’s demonstration outside Parliament demanding the stopping of Universal Credit
Yesterday’s demonstration outside Parliament demanding the stopping of Universal Credit

THURSDAY was Unite’s National Day of Action against Universal Credit! There was a rally at 1pm in Old Palace Yard and a march to the DWP office, 12 Tothill Street, Westminster, London SW1H 9LH.

Hundreds of thousands of families in the UK claiming the government’s new all-in-one benefit, Universal Credit are being plunged into misery and hardship as the government continues its hostile environment towards claimants. Unite, the UK’s largest union, is calling on the government to stop Universal Credit before even more families are forced into poverty.

As part of a National Day of Action, Unite Community members and campaigners held street stalls over 65 towns and cities across the UK to help raise awareness of who will be affected by Universal Credit. Dozens of demonstrators protested opposite Parliament at 1pm in Old Palace Yard and marched to the DWP office, 12 Tothill Street, Westminster, London SW1H 9LH.

Recent research by the Economic and Social Research Council has highlighted the devastating impact benefit sanctions, a key component of Universal Credit, has on claimants. Rather than helping people into work, sanctions cause increased poverty, ill-health and for some to drop out of the system and move into survival crime.

The level of benefit sanctions for people claiming Universal Credit is much higher than for other benefits. This is due to reasons such as the difficulties people have in dealing with the complexity of the system and that many people claiming this on-line benefit don’t have access to the internet at home thereby missing job centre appointments and instructions they don’t hear about in time.

As well as the long waits for the benefit there are other problems with Universal Credit, such as the complex on-line-only application process and the housing benefit element not being paid direct to landlords causing rent arrears and in some cases eviction.

In areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out, food-banks have seen a 50 per cent increase in use compared with a 13 per cent increase in areas with the old legacy benefits. ‘Left behind’, a report into the impact of Universal Credit by The Trussell Trust, has found that 92 per cent of people claiming the all-in-one benefit said that it doesn’t cover their full cost of living, and 57 per cent have experienced mental or physical health problems.

Liane Groves, Head of Unite Community says: ‘Universal Credit is creating a hostile environment for people who claim it and is not fit for purpose and should be stopped. ‘Despite knowing that Universal Credit causes serious problems for those claiming it, the government is ploughing ahead regardless while claimants are descending further into debt, relying on food banks and getting into rent arrears and in many cases are being evicted from their homes.

‘In order to claim Universal Credit claimants need an internet connection which many simply can’t afford. ‘Unite is demanding a cut in the long waits to receive money, for people to be able to apply in job centres, not just online, better help for people when the system fails, landlords to be paid directly to avoid people getting into rent arrears and losing their homes, an end to benefit sanctions for people in and out of work.’

Over one million low-paid part-time workers will also be affected by Universal Credit and for the first time ever people in work could face being sanctioned (having their benefits stopped) if they don’t prove to the job centre that they’re searching for better paid work or more hours. The new benefit, which is replacing six benefits – child tax credit, housing benefit, income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance and working tax credit – will affect seven million UK households.

• GMB has fought Uber tooth and nail in the courts, the workplace and on the international stage to bring about a big change. The union has scored a hard-fought victory after the company agreed to give drivers sick pay and parental leave. In an announcement, the company said it will give drivers access to medical cover, compensation for work-related injuries, sick pay, parental leave and bereavement payments.

In October 2016, the Central London Employment Tribunal ruled in GMB’s favour – determining that Uber drivers are not self-employed, but workers entitled to basic workers’ rights including holiday pay, a guaranteed minimum wage and an entitlement to breaks.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal then upheld the ruling in November 2017. Mick Rix, GMB National Officer, said: ‘This is a well-deserved victory for GMB’s hard-fought campaign. ‘GMB has fought Uber tooth and nail in the courts, the workplace and on the international stage to bring about this change.

‘At long last, it seems Uber are starting to listen to GMB members’ complaints regarding the company’s treatment of drivers and denying them their rights.

‘This is a major step in the right direction, but our successful court victories, winning workers’ rights for Uber drivers, could have all been avoided if they had sat down and talked with GMB from the start. ‘Today is an acknowledgment that if you work in the gig economy, for companies like Uber, GMB is the union that will fight for your rights.’

• The BMA is supporting a judicial review challenging health service transformation plans that ‘risk handing an area’s entire NHS budget to private providers’. The campaign group JR4NHS is in the High Court to challenge the government and NHS England on their plans to allow local areas to form accountable care organisations (ACOs), which would take over the budgets and management of healthcare for a population.

The group’s argument centres around whether the plans go against current legislation that defines CCGs as the organisations that plan and buy care in the NHS, and claims that the health and social care secretary and NHS England failed to meet public standards on transparency. The BMA has provided a witness statement offering support.

Commenting ahead of the launch of the review Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: ‘The BMA is pleased to support this judicial review, which challenges the government’s plans for accountable care organisations which are being introduced with a lack of transparency and awareness among healthcare staff, patients, the public and parliamentarians.

‘While we agree with the principle of greater collaboration in the NHS and between health and social care, such transformation plans sit outside of existing legislation and frameworks and risk handing an area’s entire NHS budget to private providers through competitive tendering. ‘This brings with it all the problems associated with commissioning such companies to handle important public services. They are time-limited, meaning providers would have to re-bid for contracts every ten years, creating great uncertainty for whole populations of patients, while we have seen recently what happens when large private companies fold halfway through government projects – it is ordinary people who bear the brunt of the damage caused.

‘We feel the plans as they stand have the potential to have a far-reaching negative impact on patients, doctors and the wider NHS workforce, who must therefore have transparency and clarity – as well as the opportunity to properly consider such changes – something we are not convinced the government has supplied so far.’