Unite Community activists were out in force across the country this Saturday (December 2), demanding the Tories halt Universal Credit before it ruins Christmas for thousands of people.
Protests took place in more than 70 towns and cities against the heartless rollout of the benefit, which, due to payment delays, will leave countless families penniless during the festive season.
Head of Unite Community Liane Groves said the national day of action had been “a great success” and was just the beginning of the union’s campaign to stop the introduction of Universal Credit (UC).
“Life is going to get a lot worse for Theresa May’s ‘just about managing’ families and it is Unite’s aim to ensure that these families use their anger at the ballot box and vote out this cruel government,” she said.
Hundreds of thousands of working families will see their benefits reduced under the new all-in-one system, with a recent report estimating that a million more children will be plunged into poverty because of the changes.
On top of sweeping cuts to welfare budgets, the troubled rollout of UC has also been beset by delays, with claimants waiting six weeks or more before payments.
Although the government has been forced to act by the Labour party, making partial advance payments available to those who are struggling, this will only come into force from January and will still leave many high and dry.
The delays in payments have also led to a 30 per cent increase in food bank usage in areas where UC has been introduced.
In Leeds city centre, Unite Community activists set out a stall to alert the public to the plight of new claimants who will have to wait until after Christmas to receive their payments because of the processing delays.
Unite Community member Gerry Lavery was one of those speaking to yuletide shoppers.
“It’s a good idea to combine the benefits into one but there are many unfairnesses about it. People shouldn’t be put into the position of having to wait so long for their claims to go through,” Lavery said.
‘Won’t help people in time for Christmas’
“I know the government have made some concessions, but it seems to me that they have mishandled it and the changes won’t help people in time for Christmas.
“We are already meeting people who are in dire poverty, who are living hand-to-mouth, and Universal Credit in its current form is only to going to make that worse.”
A protest was also held in Gloucester city centre.
Unite Community Gloucester branch member Sue Powell said the effect of UC will be felt for “years to come”.
She explained, “Seven million households will be affected by the introduction of UC, including over one million low paid or part-time workers, as well as the growing number of self-employed.
“People on zero-hour contracts or insecure contracts who have unstable incomes will face difficulties claiming UC and this could plunge them into debt despite them being employed.
“The evidence shows that people who are in receipt of UC are faced with uncertainty and are under constant pressure because they don’t know how much money they are going to receive from one month to the next.”
Powell added, “Because people are forced to wait six weeks for payment, the threat of eviction from their homes is a constant worry because they can slip into arrears through no fault of their own.”