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Universal credit – or universal disaster?

Universal Credit has remained in the headlines for weeks now as MP’s across the UK have called for a halt to fix the broken system, which is leaving thousands of poor and vulnerable without money and in debt.

David Gawke has told ministers to stop worrying, as claimants can get an “Advance” of 50% to tide them over and no one will be without money. This amount, however, is repayable and will be deducted from claimant’s payments over subsequent months – only prolonging their financial agony.

Many horrifying stories are hitting the headlines, piling pressure on ministers to act. Labour’s Debbie Abrahams has secured a debate on Wednesday 18th October in the House of Commons.

So why are they not listening? Is it denial; is it arrogance that they can ride roughshod without being held to account? No, it is about the fact they have invested a great deal of public money in this trouble project, the biggest welfare reform since the welfare state was created. They are determined to push this project forward, regardless of the harm it causes.

So what is all the fuss about taxpayers might say? Well.. some are in for a shock, as this is not an out of work benefit – it’s is an in work benefit too. It will involved an online application, and expensive calls to the universal credit helpline, with many not able to afford or access the internet it will be a struggle for welfare advisors whom are already swamped with requests for help.

Furthermore, under Universal Credit, low-income working people may be forced to increase their hours worked or find a better-paying job, under the threat of possible sanctions (payments stopped or reduced). A Twitter poll by Welfare Weekly has found that more than half of low-income workers (53%), who are currently claiming working tax credit, are unaware they may be subject to these strict requirements.

Some people are so far untouched by the horrors and suffering experienced by those on low incomes as welfare cuts continue to bite, some of whom are disabled or suffer from a long-term illness.

Disabled people have spent years trying to highlight and bring attention to this cruel system, by taking the government to court and to the UN who accused the UK government of ‘Grave & Systemic violation of disabled peoples rights’ and a ‘Human Catastrophe’ – but to no avail.

The public have continued to swallow the rhetoric of fraudsters and scroungers; that these “reforms” are saving taxpayers money. In reality it has been saving little, if any, but costing more to administer from falsified reports and losing appeal cases daily as many decisions are overturned.

Under universal credit, sanctions will be cruelly imposed on those who fail to comply with overly strict conditionality, as they struggle on the breadline to either meet assessment requirements or work more hours to remain eligible. Some may even be forced to give up a job they love and find higher-paying work.

Many people still do not realise they may no longer be entitled to free prescriptions or free school meals under this new system. Their transport may also be effected due to the complicated way this system is designed and means tested. And mortgage interest support payments will be turned into repayable loans.

The horrors are only just coming to light. Even before the full service has been roll-out across the UK the government seem hell bent on destroying people’s lives, putting them in huge debt before the new system has gotten off the starting block. The government now sees itself as a moneylender, where everything is a loan to be paid back, regardless of whether a person is working or not.

Only the other day a Tory minister said people should no longer think it is a right to have a home they worked hard; that this should not be seen as an asset they can pass down to their children, but should instead use its value to pay for social care they may need later in life. Just when you thought the so-called “Dementia Tax” was a thing of the past, it has reared it’s ugly head.

The scarcity of adequate social care has become a massive problem, due to services and council budgets being brutally slashed to bone, while the Tories slowly dismantle our public services and privatise anything they can get away with.

Many think ESA/JSA was a terrible benefit, and it was – causing unnecessary pain and suffering for thousands of sick and disabled people – but Universal Credit is the mother of all Tsunami’s whose apocalyptic devastation is yet to be fully realised.

This new “benefit” will almost certainly lead to more pain and misery for millions of vulnerable people and low-paid workers. The vast majority of commentators and experts warn it will lead to growing suffering on a scale not seen since the Victoria era. Some even say it could lead to an increase in suicides.

Gail Ward is a disability rights campaigner. This article was last updated at 05:34 (GMT) on the 16th October 2017.

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