The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has publicly condemned the UK Government’s flagship Universal Credit scheme, claiming the widely criticised welfare reform makes falling into debt and hardship “practically inevitable”.
His comments are the latest in a long-line of criticisms and come only a few weeks after the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, slammed the new benefit for leaving the UK’s poorest citizens even more “worse off”.
Writing in the Yorkshire Post, John Sentamu, a long-spoken critic of Tory welfare changes, says: “People have already been struggling with rising living costs and stagnating incomes, but emergency food providers such as the Trussell Trust report that in areas where Universal Credit has been introduced, demand has risen far more steeply than in other areas.
“And even when people are getting regular payments, the system is often less generous than the previous benefits system.
He continues: “The latest controversy centres around the way the Government plans to move the bulk of people across from the old benefit system to Universal Credit.
“Instead of the expected mass transfer, the Department for Work and Pensions will write to claimants giving them a deadline to apply for Universal Credit (which could be as little as a month).
“If they don’t claim, their existing benefits will stop on that date. And if they do later claim Universal Credit, they won’t get transitional protection which is designed to ensure an individual doesn’t lose money at the point of transfer if the new system is less generous.”
Mr Sentamu argues that many communities around Britain “are dreading the implementation of what is supposed to be a welfare policy”, so much so that they “feel the need to make such anxious preparations”, such as foodbanks making urgent requests for donations to help the hardest hit.
He also warns that people “may be tempted to turn to high-cost lenders”, or even “have to cut back on their household’s food” as the they “struggle to pay essential bills” and are forced to “cut back” on household spending.
In his article, the Archbishop praises the work done by The End Hunger UK campaign in highlighting in the impact of Universal Credit on claimants and their communities, and includes some suggestions for improving the new benefit.
“First, we urgently need improved flexibility and support for people applying for and receiving Universal Credit”, he writes.
“Secondly, the policy must not leave people at risk of debt and destitution.
“Thirdly, we need a lasting commitment that Universal Credit will provide people with an adequate income, so they can keep their heads above water and afford good food.”
“The real challenge for people in poverty is income inequality”, he says.
“If those changes can be made, then Universal Credit still has the potential to be a successful, effective policy, and one which makes work pay a Living Wage – and not the present so-called National Living Wage (topped up minimum wage).”
Earlier this month, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby told the TUC Congress in Manchester that Universal Credit “was supposed to make it (the benefits system) simpler and more efficient”, but has in reality “left too many people worse off, putting them at risk of hunger, debt, rent arrears and [reliant on] food banks”.
“When Universal Credit comes into a local area the number of people going to food banks goes up”, he claimed.
Mr Welby concluded: “What is clear is if they cannot get it right they need to stop rolling it out.”