People in Stourbridge are being forced into the Government’s heavily criticised Universal Credit (UC) ’conditional payments’ regime at the rate of more than 50 every week – and local MP Margot James has signalled her strong support for its ‘sound principles’.
The Government’s flagship welfare reform has come under fierce attack in recent weeks for causing ‘unacceptable hardship’ through payment delays and financial penalties. Reports of claimants scavenging in bins for food have hit national headlines.
Latest official figures for Stourbridge from the Department for Work and Pensions show that almost 4,500 households in the town – many in work but in poorly paid or insecure ’zero hours’ jobs – now have their lives governed by the UC system.
Stourbridge MP Ms James, a Government minister who has voted in support of the regime and took part in shaping it, has told concerned constituents in an e-mail that ‘UC is a fair benefit that protects vulnerable claimants’.
In October, Ms James voted against allowing the release of a Government report on the impact of Universal Credit on claimants – but an all-party committee of MPs released their own report that concluded four in 10 claimants are falling into rent arrears, evictions and hunger.
Since the MPs’ report and the uncovering of ‘extreme’ sanctions – including a 117-day, £1,200 loss-of-benefits ‘fine’ for one missed phone call (See graphic, below) – two national newspapers, The Mirror and The Sun have launched campaigns to have UC drastically overhauled and reformed or even scrapped.
Among other concerns, the regime’s ‘only one claim per household’ rule is reported to link with worsened conditions within abusive relationships. A major study by Welfare Conditionality called Universal Credit’s sanction policies ‘ineffective and harmful’.
The Government has ignored calls to pause the regime’s nationwide roll-out, including one made in a damning report by a United Nations inspector sent in to the UK to investigate allegations that austerity measures like Universal Credit are inflicting suffering and punishing people for issues beyond their control.
The Government insists that UC gives a safety net that ensures poorly or irregularly paid people have a minimum income to live on.
In a letter to constituents that has been passed to stourbridgevote Ms James praises Universal Credit, calling it ‘a modern benefit based on the sound principles that work should always pay.’ Ms James helped shape Universal Credit in committee, opposing the inclusion of childcare support funding for working parents in its calculations.
She says in her letter that UC is helping job seekers into work and will ‘empower’ people on it to work an extra 113 million hours a year before their UC support is ’tapered off’ The MP asserts that a £4.5 billion ‘package’ for UC that was announced in the October Budget ‘will make a real difference to the lives of claimants across the country.’
According to the MP’s letter, an extra £1.7 billion a year will be ‘put into’ work allowances, ‘increasing the amount that hardworking families can earn by £1,000 before their award is tapered away, providing extra support for 2.4 million working families’. It is also fair for taxpayers, she said.
Ms James revealed that UC will be rolled out to every Job Centre in the country ‘by the end of this year’, a deadline that critics warn will tip more households into trouble around Christmas and the new year because of the five-week delay in new payments beginning.
Stourbridge households affected by Universal Credit problems can get independent advice from organisations that include Turn2Us
* Text above in bold blue italics link to sources and documents – click on them to access material (links may open in another page)