The Communication Worker’s Union (CWU) is said to be stepping up its campaign against the roll-out of Universal Credit, in response to growing evidence of the hardship caused by the UK Government’s flagship welfare reform.
Universal Credit (UC) is replacing a number of existing benefits and tax credits with a single monthly payment, which opponents of the scheme say is pushing already struggling households further into debt and poverty and leaving them at risk of homelessness.
Despite the Government reducing the lengthy waiting period before a claimant receives their first payment, from six weeks to five weeks, and the availability of advance payments for those in difficulty, critics argue the new system is still plunging people into financial crisis.
“If anyone wants to see one good example of this Government’s cruel, heartless and uncaring attitude towards vulnerable people, you only have to look at what they’ve done on Universal Credit,” said Brian Kenny of the North West Regional Committee at CWU Conference.
“The Tories’ failing Universal Credit programme is plunging millions into poverty, leaving them unable to pay their rent and sometimes even putting their dinner on the table – leaving some facing debt and eviction as a result.”
Mr Kenny highlighted recent figures from the Trussell Trust, showing that the charity handed out a record 1,332,952 three day emergency food supplies to people in crisis between 1st April 2017 and 31st March 2018.
Commenting on the latest statistics, Chief Executive of The Trussell Trust Emma Reive said: “As a nation we expect no one should be left hungry or destitute – illness, disability, family breakdown or the loss of a job could happen to any of us, and we owe it to each other to make sure sufficient financial support is in place when we need it most.
“It’s hard to break free from hunger if there isn’t enough money coming in to cover the rising cost of absolute essentials like food and housing. For too many people staying above water is a daily struggle. It’s completely unacceptable that anyone is forced to turn to a foodbank as a result.”
She added: “Universal Credit is the future of our benefits system. It’s vital we get it right, and ensure levels of payment keep pace with the rising cost of essentials, particularly for groups of people we know are already more likely to need a foodbank – disabled people, people dealing with an illness, families with children and single parents.”
Mr Kenny added: “The complexity and confusion associated with even applying for Universal Credit is a main driver of real hardship.
“Many are facing problems because they don’t have access to a computer because under the scheme everyone needs to have an email address and access to IT to even submit a claim – even homeless people!
“Many of these people are being exploited by loan sharks and doorstep lenders, leading to further chronic debt.
“We need to get this Government to abandon this cruel and unworkable policy – or, better still, let’s get Jeremy Corbyn into No 10 with a Labour Government to fix this scheme once and for all.”
Scotland region secretary John Brown agreed, but added that the CWU’s primary aim must be to get rid of Universal Credit in its entirety, reminding Conference members that “we’re going to have to live with it until we get rid of the Tories”.
He added: “In the meantime we have to press elected members, be that at Westminster, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and every other level to put pressure on the Government to ameliorate this iniquitous Universal Credit system.”
Steve Halliwell backed the motion on behalf of the NEC, concluding: “From monthly payments intervals to a labyrinthine online system, Universal Credit is wholly unfit for purpose.
“As trade unionists we have a responsibility to encourage a more humane approach that is designed with users in mind.
“It’s vital that the CWU and other trade unionists campaign on this issue and [be] resolute.”