Campaigners have thrust the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) into the spotlight again. Because on Saturday 6 February, Universal Credit was the subject of a day of online action.
DWP and the Treasury: at war
In April 2020, the DWP increased the rate of Universal Credit by around £20 a week. But ever since then, uncertainty has existed over what will happen this April. Since the Tories are ending this increase, people will see a £20 per week cut to their payments.
Chaos has ensued in government. At first, Sunak talked about giving Universal Credit claimants a one-off, £500 payment. Then, he was allegedly thinking about making this £1,000. But the DWP boss Thérèse Coffey ‘slapped down‘ Sunak’s idea. She said it was not her department’s “preferred approach”, but without saying what the DWP’s answer would be.
So the Tories are leaving claimants anxious and waiting. And several campaign groups have decided to voice their concerns via social media.
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), Homes For All, and People Before Profit are grassroots campaign groups. They set up an online day of action on 6 February. The groups asked people to use #20More4All and #NoCutsToBenefits to post on social media why the government needs to sort this. And so, people did:
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Say NO to the proposed £20 per week cut to #UniversalCredit
— LADP #NHS #ScrapUC #WelfareRebellion #Rebel4Life (@LoveDaisyPetals) February 6, 2021
A decent govt would not force disabled people to go online to fight for a £20 increase that others are getting already. They would have rectified the error months ago and apologised #20More4All #NoCutsToBenefits pic.twitter.com/RBhofSCAMT
— 𝙱𝚎𝚗 𝙲𝚕𝚊𝚒𝚖𝚊𝚗𝚝 💚 𝙹𝚘𝚒𝚗𝙰𝚄𝚗𝚒𝚘𝚗 (@imajsaclaimant) February 6, 2021
Other groups got involved:
— WinVisible (women with disabilities) (@WinVisibleWomen) February 6, 2021
To #EndTheDebtTrap we need benefits that are enough to live on.
— Unfair Debt Group (@UnfairDebtGroup) February 6, 2021
Women are coming to us in desperate financial need with all #UniversalCredit money spent on rent. In 2019 the Work & Pensions Committee report linked problems with UC to an increase in survival sex. #20More4All #NoCutsToBenefits #StopAndScrapUniversalCredit #ScrapUniversalCredit pic.twitter.com/TF2k5oieI6
— English Collective of Prostitutes ♀️ 🏳️⚧️ (@ProstitutesColl) February 6, 2021
As did some MPs:
Today is @dis_ppl_protest Day of Action against the £20 UC cut.
The £20 uplift has been a lifeline to almost 7000 people in #CynonValley.
— Beth Winter MP (@BethWinterMP) February 6, 2021
Spot on Ellen! https://t.co/u2DzP0LBu2
— Debbie Abrahams MP (@Debbie_abrahams) February 6, 2021
#20More4All highlighted people who claim other social security. Because for around 1.5 million claimants of things like Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), the government hasn’t given any extra support at all during the pandemic. And the day of action also made a broader point. It’s that the social security system is not fit for purpose anyway.
Universal Credit was plagued by problems before coronavirus (Covid-19) hit. This led UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty Philip Alston to call it “Universal Discredit”. Things like the five-week wait for a first payment haven’t gone away because of coronavirus. In fact, some of the problems have become more widespread. For example, a study by the University of York found that:
Nearly two thirds (63 per cent) of those who claimed for Universal Credit (UC) between March and June  are living on less than they are assessed to need due to deductions. …
Almost all of the deductions include repayments of an advance loan that claimants can take out while they wait five weeks before receiving their first payment.
Little has changed
On Sunday 7 February, the Observer reported that:
More than three in 10 people who began claiming universal credit after the start of the pandemic last year have acquired new debts, or seen their existing debts grow
Little has changed since early 2018, when DPAC said the government must ‘scrap’ Universal Credit. The major difference now is millions more people claim it. In the short term, the Tories need to fix the immediate problem of the £20 uplift. And in the long term, the whole social security system needs razing and redesigning.
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