This week, the Tory Government was defeated in the House of Commons during a Labour Party motion calling for a halt to the roll-out of Universal Credit. The Opposition won by 299 votes to 0, with even a Tory MP supporting it.
The vote came amidst many horror stories of people living in destitution as a result of being put on the new benefit, which replaces all previous benefits for those of working age. Just before the vote, Greater Manchester Housing Action launched a 38 Degrees petition also calling for a halt to the roll-out of Universal Credit, which spells out all the dangers...
"We believe that we should not stand for such wilful ignorance of the impacts of the new system" it states "We urge individuals, groups, organisations, MPs, councillors, landlords and housing associations to stand in solidarity against the Universal Credit roll-out. As this catastrophe unfolds the shortcomings and blind spots of UC have increasingly become clear.
The petition cites six issues which are of the most concern...
1. People are experiencing waits of six to twelve weeks (sometimes longer) for their first payment of Universal Credit. Consequently, people are spiralling into debt and rent arrears which they may find it impossible to recover from.
2. Universal Credit claims can only be processed online through a system called verify which cannot be completed without requisite ID or computer access. Some of the most vulnerable people, such as those who are disabled, precariously housed, homeless or non-UK citizens, find it extremely difficult to claim. This both lengthens the waiting period for first payments and makes it difficult for individuals to maintain their claims, putting them at risk of sanctions.
3. Sanctions are being applied erratically and arbitrarily in relation to UC. There is mounting evidence highlighting unfair use of sanctions, for example individuals have received them for being at work and missing their work focused interview. Full service roll-out will also bring housing benefit into the realm of sanctions, directly increasing the risk of evictions and homelessness.
4. Under UC many will see a reduction in their financial entitlement and will be living off substantially less money. In some cases individuals will be around £100-£300 less well off per month than on previous legacy benefits like Employment and Support Allowance and Severe Disability Premium. Disabled people and those with debilitating heath conditions will be pushed further into poverty as a result.
5. Young People aged 18-25 will be disproportionately affected by UC, for example, those aged between 18-21 will not be entitled to housing benefit under UC unless in an exempt category. The exemptions will not cover thousands of at risk young people, resulting in mounting debt and homelessness.
6. Evidence suggests that UC is pushing more children and families into poverty. Unjust elements of UC like the two child limit do not support working or non-working families. Direct links to welfare reform, specifically UC are causing professionals to highlight the risk of more children going into care and families becoming homeless.
The petition calls on the Government to "halt the roll-out while all of the problems are reviewed, to avoid creating unnecessary suffering. Universal Credit, if rolled out in its current form, is a Universal Catastrophe that will place an unsustainable burden on the finances of local authorities, charitable organisations and support services who will ultimately be left to pick up the pieces..."
The campaign against Universal Credit roll-out is gathering pace, despite the Government's determination to press ahead with it. The Greater Manchester Law Centre has refused to "be complicit" in the roll-out, and Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, has also publicly criticised the process, citing figures from two areas of Greater Manchester where Universal Credit has been piloted...
Burnham states: "Figures from First Choice Homes Oldham, the largest local social landlord, show that:
The percentage of customers who are in arrears for self-payers and Housing Benefit recipients currently stands at 18% whereas for Universal Credit customers this is 68%;
25% of their tenants on Universal Credit are having legal action taken against them to recover rent, including possession proceedings, and 15 families on Universal Credit have already been evicted;
The rental income of social landlords is also being hit, with First Choice Homes forecasting that their rental income will decrease by £1m per annum as a result of Universal Credit changes.
"Experiences in Wigan have reinforced this" he adds "They have found that:
In council tenancies across Wigan borough the proportion of Universal Credit claimants in arrears with their rent is 80.4%, compared with 36.7% for those tenancies where Universal Credit is not claimed;
The average arrears on a standard tenancy stand at £124.13 whereas the figure on a Universal Credit tenancy is £448.34."
To sign the Greater Manchester Housing Action petition click here
See also previous Salford Star article: Greater Manchester Law Centre Boycott's Universal Credit the "new poll tax" click here