People are queueing up to tell the public – and the minority Tory government – about the havoc its so-called “welfare reforms” – including Universal Credit – are causing among poor and working-class people: The hardship, the despair, and the deaths.
Weakling prime minister Theresa May doesn’t want to listen. She’s hoping it will go away if she ignores it.
It won’t go away. In fact, let’s all do our best to confront her with these stories, every day.
Here’s ‘James L Johnson’ (not this person’s real name) in The Independent:
I see so much suffering on a daily basis. Case managers like me are well-trained to deal with any claimants threatening suicide, either by phone or by journal message, simply because it’s such a frequent occurrence (and recurrence).
It is often that we have to tell claimants the state cannot support them further at all – even if they have weeks till their next payment and have young children to feed.
Being a case manager means that turning away those in abject poverty is a part of the job. Those who have worked in universal credit since the early days have become hardened, having dealt with thousands of vulnerable people.
Claimants who state that they are facing eviction are a penny a dozen. We are told that legal proceedings can take months so a claimant is “never really facing eviction”.
That’s how we’re told to justify it.
But Neil Couling, the civil servant in charge of delivering Universal Credit (his title appears to be ‘Director General’), seems to have accused his employee of exaggeration in this tweeted response to the economist Jonathan Portes:
You and I have always argued in favour of research and evidence rather than anecdote & opinion in making policy and delivery decisions
— Neil Couling (@NeilCouling) October 14, 2017
His comment may have carried more weight if others hadn’t added their own two-pennorth:
Sure Jonathan can discuss with you about quantitative & qualitative evidence. But frankly Neil, UC is a mess. Ask your staff and @pcs_union
— Ian Albert (@Ian_Albert) October 14, 2017
And Mr Portes wasn’t exactly supportive in his own response:
Indeed. I would very much welcome evidence, of any sort, from @NeilCouling contradicting the anecdotal evidence in article.
— Jonathan Portes (@jdportes) October 14, 2017
The official comment from the DWP did nothing to help matters. It states: “Our frontline staff offer invaluable support to people facing difficult circumstances. Their job is not always easy, which is why we provide comprehensive training and care for their wellbeing – and our universal credit employees are positive about the support they receive.
“The majority of people are satisfied with their universal credit claim and are comfortable managing their money, but there is extra support for people who need it. Advance payments, more frequent payments, and budgeting support is available.”
Good manners prevent This Writer from providing an opinion on those words, which seem intended directly to contradict ‘James L Johnson’.
Inverness MP Drew Hendry has invited Theresa May to hear claimants’ accounts of Universal Credit at a ‘summit’ on November 3.
As an appetiser (if that’s the right word), he provided the following stories in his letter to the minority prime minister:
“Abbey had payments stopped when she went on maternity leave. It took our office – having to pass details of law from House of Commons library – to get the DWP to accept their error. Over £2,000 in rent arrears, four months to fix, surviving on food vouchers.
“Leanne has cancer. This single mum of two – waited 6 long weeks for payment, when it came, it was over £500 short, including £300 for an ESA overpayment that she was never paid in the first place. Shamefully, the DWP then demanded she attended a Work Capability Assessment – against the advice of her furious GP.
“Rachael was expecting a baby yet she went all through Christmas and on to April without payment. £1,500 of housing arrears and close to being evicted. The DWP said they had a problem with her national insurance number. Against medical advice, your department wanted this pregnant woman, with no money, to travel 200miles from Inverness to Aberdeen and back to sort out your mistakes.”
For Mrs May, then, it is a choice between staying at home and relying on the assurances of people who are paid to tell her everything is fine – and attending a meeting where she may hear countless accounts of trauma, agony and torment caused by the same people.
Do YOU think she’ll go?
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