With neighbouring authorities already acting as “Pathfinders” planning to run pilot schemes, Universal Credit is already hitting our region. The scheme is currently scheduled to go live for new claimants nationally from October 2013. UNISON is firmly opposed to these changes to our benefit system. A Google Search or a look around our national website will give you plenty of reasons to hate Universal Credit, in the meantime here are just 5…
20,000 people work in Councils across the country delivering Housing Benefit. Despite a long flirtation with the idea of a TUPE transfer, the DWP came clean earlier in the year and wrote to the heads of all local authorities to say they would be taking the work, but not the staff. Housing benefit will be around for another year before a gradual phasing out, so where will these staff go? Here in Manchester there are no immediate plans for any reduction in benefits staffing and UNISON Manchester remains committed to our no compulsory redundancy policy, but Universal Credit means very grim prospects for our colleagues elsewhere in the country.
2: Child Poverty
Save the Children’s report “Ending Child Poverty: Ensuring Universal Credit supports working mums” makes for scary reading. Their estimates are that Universal Credit will leave 150,000 working parents worse off, pushing around 250,000 children further into poverty. Elsewhere in the report they estimate that a single parent with two children, working full-time on or around the minimum wage, could be as much as £2,500 a year worse off. Despite these figures our Tory government is still insisting that the new system will make work pay.
3: IT problems
No, not the government’s shambolic attempts to set up a new IT system to handle Universal Credit, but their plans for how people will apply. The idea is that applications for Universal Credit will be “digital by default”. The plain speaking translation is that they estimate by 2017 80% of people will apply on-line. We all know this is just ridiculous. Over 8 million people in this country have never accessed the internet and 31% of the population has no access at all. The majority of these are the poorer people in our society, precisely those who will be applying. Currently the documents for claiming housing benefit cannot be provided on-line, many vulnerable people need face-to-face advice, or home visits for those that have mobility issues. The Universal Credit plans do not take this into consideration. Ultimately local authority workers will become the butt of peoples frustrations as they seek an intermediary between themselves and the already difficult to reach DWP. This will put additional strains on Libraries, Local Housing offices and other community facilities willing to receipt universal credit proofs.
4: How it’s paid
Universal Credit will be paid monthly, a big change and a real challenge for people having to manage an already smaller household budget, plus if there is a mistake or a computer glitch you will have to wait a whole month for it to be corrected, to scrape by for a week is difficult enough but a whole month will just be impossible. Also it is a household, not an individual, benefit so the DWP will want documents and information for everyone in the house before they will pay out and then pay it to just one member of the family. Housing benefit can currently be paid straight to the landlord, under Universal Credit all the money will go to the claimant. Will more private landlords see tenants on benefits as too big a risk and start digging out their old “No DSS” signs?
5: The Knock on Effects
Universal Credit will bring with it a raft of problems for Manchester residents, but remember the Department of Work and Pensions will just be dealing with payments. All the problems caused will be left for other public sector workers to deal with; when families can’t make ends meet or pay the rent their local council will be the first port of call. The advent of Universal Credit will see some residents simply unable to claim, without crisis loans to fall back on we risk increased child poverty and, let’s be brutally frank here, a strain on already stretched homelessness provision.
The full extent of the social impact of Universal Credit, not to mention the various other benefit changes on the way, is difficult to estimate, but the words “another Poll Tax” seem to be being said more and more often on this issue.
So what can you do?
Email your MP or councillor; tell them about your concerns about the potential impact on the city, not to mention the amount of work they are likely to get from angry constituents. Ask them what local provision is being planned to support residents in their application process and what plans are being put in place to deal with the likely consequences of the changes.