Oldham was named as the most deprived town in England in 2016.
That was three years after the town volunteered – yes, volunteered – to pilot Universal Credit, the Tory government’s flagship benefit that was touted as a huge improvement on the ‘legacy’ benefits it replaced.
And what has happened in the years since then?
Well, UC pays housing benefit direct to claimants, rather than to Housing Associations – meaning that one such organisation lost £400,000 in rent during the first year of the benefit; money it will never recoup.
Currently, 41 per cent of its tenants on UC are in arrears – that’s 1,398 out of 3,402. Another 2,450 are yet to make the move.
But the problem isn’t with tenants withholding the money; it’s with them struggling with the Kafkaesque application process and having to wait five weeks before their first payment.
In the last year, the housing association has referred 199 people to food banks.
That’s not what happens to people who are receiving enough money but using it wrongly; it’s what happens to people who are being deliberately starved.
Claimants like ‘Barbara’, who has to look after an autistic son and has anxiety and depression, including suicidal thoughts, have faced delay after delay in a process that should be straightforward but seems to have been deliberately complicated by the Department for Work and Pensions.
Now she is £5,000 in debt because the pittance UC provides her simply doesn’t cover basic living costs.
And some people are going undetected by organisations trying to help. While they seem to be coping on paper – by paying their rent on time – they are going without heat, light or food.
Even people who are in work are penalised by the system. One couple, after going self-employed and coping on UC for a year, then discovered that their future payments would be based on a notional figure of what they should be earning, plucked from the air.
In short, their UC payments halved and they were left struggling to cope. Reluctantly, they were forced to close down the business.
So this revolution in the benefits system has not only caused extreme hardship to its claimants, but there have been knock-on effects on the businesses they try to run and the organisations they rely on.
It is already causing serious harm, not just to the poor but to the economy of the United Kingdom. And the Tories want you to think it’s a huge success. Insanity.
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