Imagine trying to live on 7p a day. Obviously you can’t, it’s impossible.
Yet Frank Field, the Labour MP who chairs the work and pensions select committee, revealed one such extreme instance earlier this week. It is a direct consequence of the bodged roll out of universal credit.
The widely criticised streamlining of six different benefits into one universal credit will be rolled out in Derby in this summer, but few people are likely to be ready for it.
Is this just a matter for the so called “shirkers” and “scroungers” in society? No. Half of those who will be affected in Derby are in employment. Those who are self-employed or working in zero hour contracts, but depend on social security payments to keep them afloat, will take a hit.
Despite Labour’s best efforts to pause the roll out of universal credit, the government has been determined to proceed. The convoluted system for calculating entitlement means long delays and hardship for anyone affected. A study by Policy in Practice consultancy found that the hellish system will see 78% of self-employed claimants around £4,000 a year worse off.
Just think about that for a moment. We have a job market where sick pay, holiday pay and pensions are becoming rarer as more and more people are forced to work in zero hour contracts. Britain’s long term low wages and rising inflation mean that more and more people depend on social security, including a million in this country forced to use food banks. In this context the move to universal credit is the political equivalent of kicking the nation when it’s down.
Long delays in payments have been commonplace in the areas where it has already been rolled out. Claimants are expected to wait a minimum of six weeks before receiving their first payment, and often much longer. Can you imagine what it’s like to lose six weeks of vital income? The Conservatives, who rule the roost in the Palace of Westminster, seem oblivious to the hardship they are causing.
Cases are beginning to stack up where delays in payments have led to rent arrears and evictions, making our country’s homelessness problem even worse. One heartless landlord in Lincolnshire even sent pre-emptive eviction notices to every one of his tenants due to receive the benefit.
Yes, we already live in a country that’s stopped building anywhere near enough council housing, and has the worst tenants’ rights in Europe, but the government is still ploughing ahead with this ruinous scheme.
Perhaps hardest hit will be those in receipt of disability payments. According to the charity Scope, disabled people could lose as much as £395 from the changes.
And it is councils across the country that will pick up the bill from the mounting strain on families caused by rent arreras, homelessness and poverty. The dangers were made clear earlier this month when a Tory led Northamptonshire County Council effectively went bust.
The list of problems with universal credit goes on, but perhaps worst of all is this: the savings to the tax payer are tiny. According to the Office for National Statistics, Universal credit is expected to reduce the security bill by a mere 2%, or even less. So, all the confusion, all the hardship and all the distress being caused to people, who are already struggling on low incomes, won’t even realise the government’s ambition to cut social security expenditure.
So much pain for so little gain: that is the government’s bodged roll out of universal credit in a nutshell.
This article originally appeared in the Derby Telegraph