The Conservative government’s campaign to inflict misery and torment on the poor and vulnerable, known euphemistically as Universal Credit, is in trouble yet again.
The scheme, which terminates six ‘legacy’ benefits by combining eligibility for them into a single payment that is worth much less and is delivered five weeks late, was intended to be working across the UK by 2017.
Today’s announcement means the rollout of the new mechanism will not be complete until 2023 – if it lasts that long.
In theory, there is nothing wrong with the idea of streamlining the benefit system by putting people’s entitlement to different state payments into a single pot.
But we should remember that it is being introduced by a Conservative government that hates the very idea of taxpayer-funded social security.
The Tories want to push us into paying through the nose for private insurance against the circumstances that would require us to claim, and have spent more than 20 years in cahoots with a criminal American corporation called Unum, working on ways to achieve that end without raising concerns among the public that this is what they are doing.
So benefits like Universal Credit, Personal Independence Payment and Employment and Support Allowance are all paid at lower rates than the schemes they have replaced, in a deliberate plan to force people into debt.
Then, claimants will either find a way back into work (or rather, into better-paid work, as there are plenty of employees on Universal Credit or its legacy benefits), or they will die in a way that allows the Tory government to deny responsibility – even though we all know the score.
The experience of these claimants is intended to persuade people who are currently earning enough – the “just about managing” people who Theresa May used to mention in speeches – to take out private insurance.
But the joke’s on them if they do, because Unum earned its criminal conviction for refusing to pay out on people claiming their policies had matured!
No doubt some of you are reading this and thinking, “Ah, but! The Tories are planning to spend hundreds of millions of pounds to stop claimants suffering the kind of hardship mentioned here! It was in leaked documents.”
That’s true – but you can be sure that they are only doing this because people like This Writer, and other organisations within the social media and the charity sector, have been kicking up a stink about the benefit system since May 2010 when the Tories first slithered back into office.
Remember: It isn’t a fortnight since Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey denounced claims that benefits had been slashed by the Tories as “fake news”. In fact, they are currently inflicting £7 billion of cuts on claimants.
And where do you think the money will go? Direct into the hands of claimants? Unlikely. I think it will be paid to the private companies the Tories hired to carry out the dirty work of assessing benefit claimants’ eligibility – and for ensuring that a high percentage of them were denied any money at all.
According to the BBC, the Tories’ remedial plans are as follows:
Plans have been drawn up to continue paying income support, employment and support allowance, and job seekers allowance for two weeks after a claim for universal credit has been made.
This will indeed smooth over the transition a little, but it still means people will have to survive an extra week on the same amount of cash as they’d normally be paid for two – and it isn’t very long since the Tories slashed £30 from the value of ESA payments, while JSA has been frozen for years.
Claimants can ask for an advance to help them get by while waiting for their first proper universal credit payment – later the government takes deductions from their regular monthly award to pay that back. Under the revised plans, the maximum amount that can be deducted will be reduced from 40% to 30% of their total award each month.
Think about what this means. Claimants who can’t make ends meet are told to borrow from a below-subsistence-level payment, and are then denied two-fifths of that payment each month until the amount is paid off.
The plan is to deny them three-tenths of that payment instead – so they will still be pushed into debt and despair; the only difference is the amount of the debt.
That is not helping anybody; helping would be ensuring that nobody is pushed into debt at all.
More help is set to be given to the self-employed, after warnings they could be left in serious financial trouble because of incorrect assumptions by the Department for Work and Pensions about their earnings.
But we have no information on the nature of the help to be offered. If it is anything like the other two examples, it will be a pretence of help that does little to improve matters.
One more thing: The government cannot even provide assurances that these changes can be made. An extract from the leaked documents states:
“We can currently offer no assurance that ultimately these proposals will prove to be deliverable, can survive legal challenges where they can be delivered, and do not invite new political criticism by generating new policy issues.”
What may we conclude, then?
The delay in the rollout of Universal Credit is cause to celebrate in itself – particularly for people on Employment and Support Allowance who would have faced yet another substantial cut in their income. These are the people the Tories are trying really hard to kill off.
But the promise of improvement in the system is likely to prove illusory.
Many commentators are waiting for Labour representatives to say they would end Universal Credit as a costly failure in terms of both government resources and human lives. But Labour says it is a good idea in principle and would try to turn it into the safety net that any benefit system should be. We all have reason to be sceptical about this.
But a Labour government is the best chance for benefit claimants.
There is nothing in today’s announcement that should encourage the unemployed, low-waged, sick or disabled to vote Conservative – unless they have a death wish.
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