Increasing numbers of people across Greater Manchester are being signed up or switched over to the controversial and heavily criticised Universal Credit system. To help those struggling to cope with the change to the new welfare system, Greater Manchester Unite Community Branch (GMUCB) have published a Universal Credit survival guide.
Universal Credit, the Tory and Liberal Democrat coalition government’s flagship change to the welfare system, was supposed to streamline the system by rolling six legacy benefits – Working Tax Credits, Housing Benefit, Job Seekers Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit – into one single payment of Universal Credit that the government assured would ‘make work pay’.
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), an activist group fighting against austerity, have been particularly damning of Universal Credit, with Paula Peters from DPAC’s national steering group describing it as “conscious cruelty with punitive sanctions… at the heart of it”.
In April this year members of GMUCB, DPAC and other Manchester community campaign groups joined forces to denounce Universal Credit by chalking slogans across St Peter’s Square, and presenting a letter to Manchester Town Hall demanding an end to tenant evictions caused by lengthy waiting periods for Universal Credit payments.
Unite Community is a branch of Unite the Union that gives people not in regular employment the benefits of being a union member. Jan Pritchard is the secretary of GMUCB, and was present at the demonstration in St Peter’s Square. Pritchard has been campaigning against Universal Credit since it was first introduced as a trial in Ashton-under-Lyne in 2013 and says the branch created the guide to:
“Give as much guidance as possible to claimants about the complexities of the UC benefit system, which have caused a huge amount of financial misery. The guide explains how UC is supposed to work, and how claimants can avoid the many pitfalls that they are likely to encounter, and who they can contact for support and advice.”
There has been a steady stream of press reports critical of Universal Credit (UC) since its inception, linking it to increasing rent arrears, homelessness and benefit sanctions. Perhaps the most damning criticism came in a report from the National Audit Office (NAO) in June, which prompted Labour MP Frank Field to call Universal Credit a “shambles, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake”. The NAO report on UC found that:
- A fifth of claimants are not being paid on time, and that the DWP believed it would never achieve 100% payment on time.
- It is far behind schedule. It was expected to be fully rolled out by October 2017, but only 10% of the final expected amount are currently claiming UC. It is now expected to be fully implemented by March 2022.
- It could cost more to run than the legacy benefits it replaced.
- It may never be possible for the DWP to measure if UC has been successful in increasing the number of people in work, meaning its claim to “make work pay” may be an empty promise
- The Department of Work and Pensions is in denial about the fact that where UC has been rolled out there is an increase in rent arrears and the use of food banks.
The guide published by GMUCB also sets out the union’s opposition to UC as it currently stands, as Pritchard explains:
“We think the Universal Credit system should be scrapped and replaced by one that is fairer and more humane. Thousands of people on Universal Credit have been adversely affected by getting sanctioned, being left with no money to live on, getting into further debt, losing their homes, and in some instances, committing suicide.
“Until it is finally scrapped, we support the campaign to make any changes that might alleviate the misery, including: making sure there are no delays in benefit payments, letting people apply for UC in a Job Centre not just online, having an option to ensure landlords get paid directly from a benefits payment to stop people getting into arrears and ending benefit sanctions.”
— Wigan Digger (@WiganDigger) May 29, 2018
Anyone wanting a printed copy of ‘How to Survive Universal Credit’ can pick one up at the Wigan Diggers Festival, on 8 September, where Greater Manchester Unite Community Branch have a stall this year.
Greater Manchester Unite Community Facebook group – click here
‘How to Survive Universal Credit’ PDF – click here
Wigan Diggers Festival – click here