As the Theresa May’s zombie government lurches from crisis to crisis, few of its policies have received more criticism than its flagship welfare ‘reform’, Universal Credit. Under pressure, chancellor Philip Hammond announced several improvements to this new welfare system in his recent Budget. But, as Andy Southwark comments, instead of tinkering around the edges, we need to a scrap the whole failed Tory austerity programme.
As the Theresa May’s zombie government lurches from crisis to crisis, few of its policies have received more criticism than its flagship welfare ‘reform’, Universal Credit. The government’s mantra is that Universal Credit is just about ‘simplifying the benefits system’ and ‘making work pay’. But the reality is that it’s just a Trojan horse for further brutal welfare cuts.
Independent analysis has shown that the cuts hidden within Universal Credit will result in three million families losing up to £2,600 per year each. The charity Child Poverty Action Group estimates that this will push a million more children into poverty by 2022 – and that’s if everything goes to plan!
So far Universal Credit has been plagued by delays and administrative errors, on top of the built-in six week waiting period. As Universal Credit is rolled out in more areas, the Peabody Trust estimates that more than 60,000 households claiming Universal Credit in the run up to Christmas will be left with no money until the new year.
The media is awash with horrific tales of the impact of Universal Credit, such as 38-year-old mother Elaine Morral, who died at home alone after her benefits were stopped. Elaine, who suffered from an eating disorder and a number of mental health conditions, lost her benefits after she failed to attend a Universal Credit appointment because she was too sick to make it to the JobCentre. She died alone, wrapped in a scarf and coat, because she couldn’t afford to put the heating on. That such a thing can happen in the fifth richest country in the world demonstrates the horrifying reality of austerity in Tory Britain.
Elaine’s case is not an isolated one. Thousands more are left cold and hungry by Universal Credit. Food banks in areas with Universal Credit have seen a 30% increase in demand, compared to a 12% increase in those areas which it has yet to reach. One foodbank in the Wirral has put out a call for an extra 15 tonnes of food to prepare for the impending implementation of Universal Credit.
Not content with leaving people with empty bellies, the Tories big reform is also set to make thousands homeless on the streets. One Grimsby landlord has sent ‘pre-emptive’ eviction notices to 350 tenants, warning that if they fail to pay their rent due to Universal Credit problems they will be summarily evicted.
So bad is the situation that even a host of Conservative MPs have been forced to confront reality and have begun to express some concerns. Alongside a concerted campaign from the Labour Party and the trade unions, this has managed to drag some limited concessions from the government in chancellor Philip Hammond’s recent Budget. But these don’t go anywhere near enough in countering the pernicious impacts of Universal Credit.
For example, the government has agreed to scrap the initial seven day waiting period. But all this means is that it will now take five weeks instead of six for claimants to get any money – still far too long for those who are living hand-to-mouth, struggling to make ends meet. At the same time, Hammond announced in his Budget that it will now be easier for new Universal Credit applicants to get a month’s payment in advance to tide them over. But this is only a loan, which must be paid back through reducations in (already paltry) future payments over the following 12 months.
Instead of tinkering at the edges, we need to scrap the failed Universal Credit system entirely. Labour and the unions must go on a renewed offensive against the Tories and their failed programme of cuts and austerity. Instead of these Tory welfare ‘reforms’, we need a socialist Labour government that will make the rich elite – not workers and the poor – pay for this crisis.