Contribution from EC member Karin Hilpert
Earlier this week I attended a protest against Universal Credit rollout, outside Cambridge’s Jobcentre Plus. This protest was organised by Unite Community and joined by other across the Labour movement in the lead up to Universal Credit being introduced to Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire on October 17th.
Attending speakers included Labour Cambridge city councillors Carla McQueen, Kelly Green and Gerri Bird on the impact this hastily hashed out welfare reform was due to have on their wards. Daniel Zeichner, MP for Cambridge was not able to attend but a statement was read out on his behalf.
Unsurprisingly, we’ve heard little protest from our own MP, Heidi Allen (Con.). Whilst publicly making the right noises when faced with the struggles of people affected by the reform, Allen has consistently failed to back this sentiment up in parliament, where it matters – only this week voting against the Labour request for publication of Universal Credit impact assessments.
Universal Credit has been poorly and recklessly implemented and hits vulnerable people the hardest. It is designed to replace six existing benefits with the aim of making claiming simpler. There have been numerous reports of applicants in other regions enduring a 5-6 week transition period from these old benefits to Universal Credit with no income whatsoever.
It is surely no coincidence that food bank usage has increased notably in these areas. Whilst no one disputes that the benefits system needs simplifying, the execution of this plan has fallen very, very far from being acceptable to anyone with a conscience.
In addition to the drawn-out transition periods, Labour MP’s have also questioned other troubling aspects of the new system. Universal Credit demands applicants must make their applications online, regardless of their computing experience.
One applicant leaving the job centre (who wished to remain nameless) told me he witnessed a man, who claimed to be semi-illiterate and with no computer skills, being left to work on his Universal Credit application with no assistance. The man was then admonished by staff when he was not able to complete the form.
Another shocking oversight I keep returning to is the decision for all benefits for the household to be only paid to one person within the household – leaving it ripe for financial abuse in the hands of domestic abusers.
Universal Credit was originally due to be fully implemented by 2017, but has been consistently scrutinised and questioned by Labour, resulting in repeated push backs. The roll out is now not due to be fully operational until 2023. Esther McVey herself had confirmed that UC will leave some worse off, contradicting the prime ministers’ own words from only a few days earlier.
With Trussell Trust recently confirming that food bank usage has increased by over 50% in the regions where Universal Credit has already been introduced, we anticipate claimants in South Cambridgeshire to suffer similarly. We are looking into how South Cambridgeshire CLP can help support local food banks, in the meantime please consider donating to your local food bank collection point.
Report by Karin Hilpert