The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 3rd November 2017

Tories must drop Universal Credit

by Daphne Liddle

PRIME Minister Theresa May remains embattled on all fronts and is surviving in her job because no one else wants it at the moment. But her premiership is also being protected by a powerful section of the ruling class that wants to see her make such a dog’s breakfast of the Brexit negotiations that the nation will agree to a second referendum on the issue, which they hope Remainers will win.

Meanwhile the issue of the roll out of Universal Credit (UC) threatens to ruin thousands of families throughout the country, forcing them into huge debt, homelessness and unemployment, and is causing doubt and dissension amongst her own ranks — and alienating her crucial parliamentary support from the Democratic Unionist Party.

Universal Credit is a punitive measure against a vast section of the population on low income rather than a rational simplification and streamlining of the benefit system, as the Tories claim. Universal Credit combines six working-age benefits into a single payment — but is paid monthly in arrears.

Fifty-eight per cent of people moving on to UC were previously paid weekly or fortnightly, and just one in seven families reliant on benefits has more than a month’s salary in savings.

Last week the Resolution Foundation, a leading financial think tank, called on Chancellor Philip Hammond to invest £3 billion in the system to close the minimum six-week gap with no income at all facing claimants as old benefits are withdrawn before they get their first UC payment. The foundation says that this is a relatively low cost to avoid the havoc this gap will cause in thousands of lives and urged Hammond to make the change in his November budget.

The Resolution Foundation said that UC is “not fit for purpose”. It has already devastated families in two pilot schemes in Southwark and Croydon.

But the six-week gap is far from being the only problem with UC. A new review of the bungled benefits shake-up says single parents — who can be left up to £1,350 per year worse off under the new system — are being “undermined” by the changes.

David Finch, Senior Policy Analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Because Universal Credit is now almost £3 billion a year less generous than the benefits it replaces, it will leave working families an average of £625 a year worse off.

“Single parents are particularly hard hit, with almost twice as many losing as will gain, while second earners in couples will also face weaker incentives to work.”

Severely disabled claimants are also set to lose a large chunk of the income as the different benefits they receive are rolled into one. The journal Welfare Weekly exposed hidden cuts in the system.

The journal explains that the cuts will adversely affect people who have been getting Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and Enhanced Disability Premium (EDP), paid to long-term claimants so they can afford to replace clothing and vital household goods that don’t come into a weekly food shopping budget, and Severe Disability Premium (SDP), paid to those whose disability is so severe they need extra help.

Under UC, the EDP and SDP payments will disappear, reducing claimants’ income by about £40 per week or £2,000 per year.

The Department for Work and Pensions claims that the money paid through EDP and SDP is now being covered by the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and social care from local councils. But the cash-strapped local authorities have no obligation to supply the extra help.

Furthermore, under UC disabled claimants will face a controversial mandatory ‘health and work conversation’ (HWC) in which they must provide information to a work coach about what jobs they can undertake, or have their benefits sanctioned.

This will mean people who are often too ill to get out of bed will be forced into a Jobcentre meeting. The DWP says not all disabled people will be required to do a face-to-face interview in the Jobcentre when it is unreasonable to expect it, but the campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) reported that it has already seen a case of a woman with a life-threatening illness and insufficient mental capacity being asked to attend an HWC.

Some universal credit claimants are being denied free prescriptions, as well as dental care, because of confusion about eligibility.

The existing benefits system with its sanctions and work capability tests is appalling enough. Universal Credit is another step in withdrawing welfare benefits altogether in order to give very rich people more tax cuts. It is inhumane and it must go.