THE DISASTROUS Universal Credit scheme was rolled out in Hammersmith and Fulham yesterday, prompting the GMB union to demand that it ‘should be withdrawn’ in its entirety.
The GMB warned that with six benefits reduced down to one single payment, families this winter will be forced to choose between paying their rent, heating their home or buying food and consequently will be forced out of the borough.
Universal Credit is being rolled out in Hammersmith and Fulham alongside another scheme under which jobseekers are subjected to a programme of ‘intensive support’.
They will be forced to have four face-to-face interviews with a ‘work coach’ within the first two weeks of signing on for Universal Credit.
Hammersmith and Fulham is the latest council to start trials after a handful of pilots in the north west of England, and recent estimates suggest just 1,000 people have claimed it so far.
Sharon Holder, GMB National Officer, said: ‘Universal Credit is designed quite clearly to remove benefits from those who really need them.
‘Hammersmith and Fulham council are simply implementing what is government policy irrespective of how that impacts on the local community of Hammersmith and Fulham.
‘Particularly the low earners, the elderly and the disabled will be affected.
‘I can see this leading to people being forced into privately rented accommodation and as a consequence will have to move out of the borough altogether to afford to live.
‘The elderly are most likely to spend Universal Credit on their utilities rather than food for themselves and the combination of changes on benefits and the rise in utilities and rise in the cost in food is likely to result in an unmitigated disaster.
‘Universal Credit should be withdrawn and the government should rethink the proposition.’
A spokesperson for PCS union said: ‘Universal Credit is fast-becoming yet another very expensive government cock-up.
‘Simplifying our benefits system is a laudable aim, but we believe this policy is more about penalizing the unemployed and people in low-paid work and will do nothing to tackle the chronic shortage of jobs in our economy.’
The Labour Party has described the scheme as descending into ‘total chaos’.
Chris Bryant MP, shadow minister for welfare reform, said ‘Universal Credit was supposed to be rolled out nationally this month – but instead we are seeing a scaled down version trialed in just a handful of job centres.’
Bryant added: ‘This is an issue we need government to get a grip on, but David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith have completely lost control.’
The scheme has suffered massive problems with failing computer technology, leading to the National Audit Office concluding that the Universal Credit system had been badly managed and was wasting tens of millions of taxpayers’ money.
Despite the barrage of criticism, the Department for Work and Pensions boasts that there will eventually be 8m households on the Universal Credit.
Six additional councils were supposed to sign up from October, however only Hammersmith and Fulham was ready to launch on Monday.
The others, Rugby, Inverness, Harrogate, Bath and Shotton, will join the scheme by the spring of next year.