The government’s savage Universal Credit (UC) has been slammed in the papers since it began in 2013, hit by years of set-backs and left many destitute and relying on food banks.
The hugely flawed benefits system, which penalises the disabled and the sick, has affected many of our own members.
Our Unite Community coordinators work with those affected every day and hear stories of misery and suffering continuously.
Unite Community decided it was time to obtain a clearer picture of the impact of Universal Credit so we conducted a survey outside job centres up and down the country as well as online. The release of the survey results coincides with our national day of action, Saturday 1 December.
During six weeks of October and November 1,141 people responded to the survey. The findings make grim reading and identify many issues faced by a significant number of people claiming the benefit.
Over three quarters of respondents said they had been put into or pushed further into debt by Universal Credit with some forced to use foodbanks to survive as well as having to borrow from friends and family. Shockingly 60 per cent of respondents said that they had been pushed into housing cost problems too.
Rent arrears were raised by a number of people and the fear of eviction was evident in the responses. Many claimants reported the problems of monthly budgeting on a low income. Disabled people and those who are sick reported a huge drop in income as a result of moving on to Universal Credit.
The vast majority (82 per cent) have a negative view of the new benefit and a significant number had problems either claiming the benefit on-line or maintaining their claim through an on-line journal.
A Unite Community member who helped to gather data for the survey told us that the people who have filled the forms in have nothing but terrible testimonies to share. She said it’s enraging and heart breaking.
Unite is calling on the government to stop and scrap the roll out of Universal Credit before thousands more families are plunged into dire poverty.
Unite Community members and campaigners will be holding street stalls across the country tomorrow (Saturday 1 December) to help raise awareness of who will be affected by Universal Credit and to offer help and support to struggling claimants.
Universal Credit is causing misery and suffering our survey results clearly show. Despite knowing this, the government is still intent on ploughing ahead with Universal Credit regardless.
Meanwhile claimants are descending into debt, relying on food banks and getting into rent arrears and in some cases being evicted from their homes.
Evidence from voluntary and community organisations as well as unions and local authorities seems to be completely ignored as the government presses on with the implementation of Universal Credit.
Access to the benefit has been devised for the advantage of administrators and not the recipients of Universal Credit. The damage done by forcing people into debt, far from helping people into work, as the government claims, is driving people away from the job market as spiralling debt impacts on people’s mental and physical wellbeing.
Single mum Danielle Johnson is challenging the government in the High Court over Universal Credit saying that the benefit is irrational and has left her more financially unstable than she has ever been before.
For low paid workers how much Universal Credit you get is calculated by how much you earn in a month. Like many she is paid on the last day of the month. But if the last day of the month falls on a bank holiday or a weekend then employers would pay you on the Friday before. The Universal Credit assessment then shows that you have been paid twice in one month and you are paid less benefits. Unsurprisingly Daniel has struggled to budget in months when she received no benefit because of the way the system operated and has consequently been forced into a spiralling cycle of debt.
As we head into winter, many claimants cannot afford warm clothing for themselves or their children and don’t have enough money to heat their homes. It will be another very bleak Christmas for thousands of families – abandoned by this government.
The survey was conducted outside job centres by volunteers and was also completed on-line. Unite will be submitting the raw data from the survey to independent academic researchers with a view to further analysis of the responses.
Unite Community branches have organised nearly 90 events up and down the country as part of Unite community’s national day of action against Universal Credit.
Please try and come along and support an event near you if you can.