In 2013, the Conservative-led government introduced Universal Credit. The Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) flagship welfare policy combines six old means-tested benefits, including housing benefit, employment and support allowance (ESA), and tax credits.
As The Canary has documented since 2015, Universal Credit has been dogged by controversy from the outset. From a damning National Audit Office report, to its links with increased food-bank use and rent arrears, the benefit ruins lives.
A new film made by Videoblogg Productions in collaboration with The Canary highlights some of these ongoing issues and shows why it’s time to scrap Universal Credit once and for all.
Make work pay?
From the start, Conservatives have insisted Universal Credit ‘makes work pay’. In 2015, Iain Duncan Smith, one of the benefit’s key architects as DWP secretary, claimed it was part of a “long term economic plan” to save taxpayers £50bn, and that it “guarantees you will always be better off in work than on benefits”.
Yet, as this film shows, this isn’t true.
In 2018, UN special rapporteur Philip Alston concluded an investigation into the impact of austerity and poverty in the UK. He said: Universal Credit “is fast falling into Universal Discredit”. Alston pointed out that, far from creating any sort of “caring” or “compassionate” benefits system, there was an “ideological” motivation behind welfare cuts. He also said:
The state does not have your back any longer. You are on your own.
Significantly, as this film shows, Alston also found that the impact of austerity and welfare cuts has:
fallen disproportionately upon the poor, women, racial and ethnic minorities, children, single parents, and people with disabilities.
One of the many issues is that Universal Credit is paid a month in arrears, so people wait up to six weeks for their first payment. As The Canary reported, this has forced some people to use food banks and made others homeless.
has led to acute financial hardship… This includes destitution, housing insecurity and debt.
Foodbank use in Universal Credit areas rises “by 30% after 12 months and by 48% after 24 months”. It also has a huge impact on people’s mental health, and agencies like foodbanks are picking up the pieces. The DWP’s offer of advance payments simply leaves people in an impossible position of “deciding between hardship now or hardship later”.
The film also explores the devastating impact of ‘claimant commitments’ which means many are “forced” into “bullshit jobs”. For some people, this means taking “unpaid work, internships, work experience for no money”. Failing to meet these commitments can lead to sanctions for up to a year. Under Universal Credit, sanctions are “nine times higher”.
Again, this pushes people to foodbanks and further into “absolute poverty”. How do you survive with no income?
As The Canary also reported, sanctions have a “life threatening” impact on some claimants.
As the film notes, Universal Credit has forced some women into prostitution. Esther McVey’s sickening response to this epitomises it all. She simply claimed “record job vacancies” created other choices.
Each time Tory ministers roll out responses like this, they ignore the truth. Universal Credit, alongside a lack of social housing, soaring private rents, zero-hours jobs, and nine years of Conservative-led austerity created a perfect storm.
As campaigner Alex Tiffin says, it’s “not possible” to live on Universal Credit.
The film also examines the impact of Universal Credit for disabled people. As Steve Topple reported in 2017, the UN slammed the UK’s “human catastrophe” due to “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights.
Gail Ward from the Black Triangle Campaign explains the impact for disabled people who now face constant assessments, humiliation, and financial destitution from benefit cuts. Too many people, meanwhile, are now dead as a result of DWP actions.
The government’s flawed and controversial Work Capability Assessment (WCA) forced thousands of disabled people onto Universal Credit and into financial crisis. Tragically, too many others have died after being declared ‘fit for work‘. Government records show that, between 2011 and 2014 alone, 2,380 people died after being declared fit for work.
This film demonstrates the true cost of Universal Credit on real lives. As Paul Morrison says:
we see hunger, and we see… a lack of dignity and a dignity being stripped away.
To return dignity to millions of people, Universal Credit must be scrapped for good. Labour’s the only party that’s promised to do so. As we enter a general election, this alone is worth voting a Corbyn-led government into power.
Featured image via – Videoblogg Productions
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