Theresa May and Iain Duncan Smith discussing poverty in 2011. Hindsight tells us they were looking forward – keenly – to increasing it hugely [Image: Neil Lancefield/PA Images].

What a divided land our once-United Kingdom has become.

We already know that Universal Credit is hugely harmful to those who are unlucky enough to have their lives blighted by it – including people who are looking for work and those who are working part-time or on low pay.

Here’s one account of the harm it does:

“There was a preoccupation with people who were not working, and a belief that many had made a lifestyle choice to live on benefits. Because of this, making life on benefits far more difficult for people and thus driving or ‘incentivising’ them into employment became an overriding aim of welfare reform and UC. The fact that UC is also a benefit for people who are in work, or who cannot work because of ill health, disability, or caring responsibilities appears to be an irrelevance, with ‘making work pay’ and getting people into work still being cited as the justification for UC.

“The suspicion and disrespect for people reliant on benefits even extended to seriously ill and disabled people, who have been treated with such harshness that the United Nations says the government has committed ‘grave and systematic violations’ of their human rights, leading to a ‘human catastrophe’. Almost unbelievably, UC continues this process, with the abolition of both the Severe Disability Premium and the Enhanced Disability Premium, and the slashing of the allowance for a disabled child. So whilst families with a disabled member are more likely than others to be living in poverty, many will be even worse off under UC.

“One of the most remarkable features of UC is the introduction of in-work conditionality. This means low paid workers who may previously have claimed Housing Benefit but now rely on UC to make ends meet can be subject to sanctions which previously only applied to those who were not working. This is a radical (some may say extreme) move which may be unique in the world. The latest evidence suggests that people on UC are much more likely to be sanctioned than those on ‘legacy’ benefits, and the sanctions are more severe.

“Whilst UC is sold to the general public as a simplification of the benefits system, it is sold to employers as giving them ‘access to a more flexible and responsive workforce’. Part-time jobs and zero-hours contracts have proliferated in recent years, because they suited employers, but UC seems designed to keep workers in this casual, insecure employment under constant pressure. They will be required to attend a Jobcentre and demonstrate that they are attempting to work more hours or increase their pay, on pain of sanction. So UC is paid monthly in arrears because it wants claimants to behave as if they have a steady and secure income, pressures them to try to increase their earnings, but enables and encourages employers to turn those same workers on and off like a tap.”

So you see that the Conservative government’s version of Universal Credit intentionally – and this is a very important point; the plan is quite deliberately to do this – pushes people into poverty.

Firstly, the amount of money available on the benefit has been cut – drastically – in comparison with the benefits that were available before, and it is paid in arrears. The stated intention is to encourage people to manage their own finances responsibly. But it is impossible to make ends meet without any money coming into the household so we may safely conclude that the actual intention is to force people into poverty, because lack of money limits their life choices.

This nudges (those of you who are familiar with ‘nudge’ theory will understand why I use that word) claimants towards any work that is available to them, no matter how low-paid, or how poor the conditions of the job – fulfilling the Tories’ promise to exploitative employers of providing a “flexible and responsive workforce”.

People who have gained employment in this way are then put under even more pressure by the government, to demand more work and higher pay, at pain of losing their benefit, which is still paid if the hours they work don’t add up to the required number. Failure to demonstrate that one is doing this will lead to a sanction, meaning the benefit will be cut for a period of time, plunging the claimant back into poverty (or more likely further into poverty) because they won’t be able to make ends meet.

Meanwhile, employers are being encouraged by the same government to use the same workers as throwaway commodities – so anyone kicking up a fuss about wanting higher pay or more work is a target for removal. And getting the sack for demanding more is a certain route to a sanction, This Writer is sure.

Add it all up, and we may safely ignore the government’s stated intentions and rely on the evidence to reveal the actual intention: Push people into poverty. The fact that UC is paid in arrears, with the first payment usually made more than a month after the claim is made, means that claimants are in danger of eviction by private landlords, and a cause of financial hardship to housing associations and councils, making it likely that they will face a constant battle to avoid being thrown onto the streets, even if they do get work – and full-time employment is no guarantee of safety if it is on low pay.

Now we see a second level to the unfairness of Universal Credit: It is also a postcode lottery.

The extract below shows that local government is stepping in to help UC claimants who are falling into difficulty – but councils are being starved of funds by a Tory regime in Westminster that couldn’t care less. Putting money to this means taking it from other funding streams, and this means spreading the suffering, rather than providing emergency relief.

Meanwhile, other councils – predominantly Tory-run councils – either don’t have a large number of people claiming UC or can’t be bothered to help, meaning they won’t spend the money.

Result: Caring councils run out of cash while Tory councils stay solvent. And the government can then say the caring councils are being run badly.

See how this works?

Cash-strapped councils are being forced to set aside extra resources to cushion the blow of switching to universal credit for vulnerable households, according to analysis by Labour.

Responses to a series of freedom of information requests submitted by the party have revealed many local authorities are allocating significant funds to support tenants with rent arrears and provide advice to help them navigate the new system.

Margaret Greenwood, the shadow minister for employment, said: “Universal credit is causing misery and hardship for thousands of families this Christmas and councils are being expected to pick up the pieces. This is yet more evidence that the government should immediately pause the roll out of universal credit so its fundamental flaws can be fixed.”

Newcastle city council reported that it was spending £390,000 supporting UC claimants, almost a quarter of which was for additional rent arrears support.

Liverpool city council said it had spent £175,000 from its local welfare provision scheme on UC claimants, while Shropshire council said it had set aside £20,000 to help food banks to “diversify the type of help they are able to give specifically to suit universal credit.”

In London, Tower Hamlets council said it had set aside £5m over three years to help those affected by the shift to UC, while Barking and Dagenham is budgeting £50,000 from January 2018.

In total, 26 councils said they had set aside extra resources or anticipated increased demand for welfare support as the UC rollout reaches their area.

Source: Councils forced to fund emergency help for universal credit claimants | Society | The Guardian


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