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Peace and Justice

Universal Credit: some of the concerns

Universal Credit (UC) has been much in the news lately. There are, rightly, a number of concerns about it and these have been well publicised by End HungerEnd Hunger is supported by a coalition of major churches and many national organisations, including: Baptists Together; Caritas Social Action Network; Child Poverty Action Group; Church Action on Poverty; the Church of England; the Church of Scotland; FareShare; First Steps Nutrition; Food Bank As It Is; Food Ethics Council; The Food Foundation; the Independent Food Aid Network; Food Matters; Magic Breakfast; the Methodist Church; Nourish Scotland; Oxfam; Quaker Peace and Social Witness; Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming; The Trussell Trust; and the United Reformed Church.

Universal Credit aims to consolidate almost all benefit payments into a singe payment, linked to tax data. It is based on the principle of ‘making work pay’, i.e. people are better off working than claiming benefits. This of course ignores the fact that some people simply cannot work and that many of the poorest people in our country are actually in work. It particularly affects self employed people whose income from work may vary from week to week.

To make it appear like wages, it is paid monthly in arrears. This means that new claimants will experience a 5-6 week delay in getting their first payment when they fall out of work. This also applies to any new claimants, for example women who have left the family home after domestic abuse. And for many people, the money paid will be less than previously – over £2000 per year in some cases. Claimants will be responsible for making all payments for rent, services, etc unlike the present system where it is paid directly.

Universal credit is coming to Sheffield in November, starting with new claims. Sometime next year Sheffield and the rest of the country will be part of the ‘migration’ of the current benefit system to UC.

Experience elsewhere has provided extensive evidence of delays in payments, leading to a 50% rise in the use of food banks.  Added to this there are frequent errors, which the new system seems to have difficulty in responding to. And the iniquitous and, according to research futile, system of sanctions remains.

Sheffield City Council is leading a major initiative to respond, coupled with Faith Star, led by Shahida Siddique.  This is likely to involve volunteers from across communities. In addition the Sheffield MPs are leading a major demonstration against UC on Saturday 26th October aimed at pausing both the November implementation and the wider roll out. It would be really important to see a massive turnout from Sheffield people.

 

Anne Hollows

 

Sheffield City Council UC information sheet

More information about UC

 

Fir Vale Foodbank - a Brief Insight