Universal Credit in Fife is ‘destitution by design’

I know, from speaking to constituents affected by Universal Credit, just how acutely this policy damages people’s lives but a report issued last week laid bare the reality of its widespread impact for all to see.
Despite being designed to streamline benefits – and cut administrative costs in the process – the National Audit Office revealed the government’s £1.9bn Universal Credit (UC) system could end up costing more to administer than the benefits system it’s replacing.
But who pays the biggest cost in all this?
New claimants, with 25 per cent of them being paid late, some by a staggering eight months.
The report found the use of foodbanks increased more rapidly after Universal Credit was introduced to an area – a fact borne out here at Kirkcaldy foodbank, where costs have spiralled since March from £3000 a month to nearly £8000.
The situation is so critical, volunteers – who pride themselves on not turning anyone away – fear they won’t be able to feed everyone should demand rise any further.
As a result an appeal has been issued to Kirkcaldy communities to help bear the burden by donating funds, effectively propping up the Welfare State.
Which begs the question: how can a government justify rolling out a benefits scheme ostensibly designed to support vulnerable people’s needs which only succeeds in creating abject poverty and destitution; which forces people to rely on charity to feed themselves and their children?
In one fell swoop Universal Credit and benefits sanctions have created for us a retrograde society, more familiar in the pages of a book by Dickens – and certainly not what we should reduce people to in the 21st century.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation powerfully summed up Universal Credit by tagging it ‘destitution by design’.
One constituent, a 53 year-old man in Kirkcaldy, who was out of work due to injury, told me “I waited six weeks to find out if I was getting paid anything on Universal Credit and when that day came I found out I was getting nothing.”
The government prides itself on a policy which gets people into work but in this case that was by forcing an injured man back into work before he’s fully recovered or, as he described it, being “backed into a corner”.
This father-of-two was fortunate to have relatives to rely on for help but having been at the receiving end of Universal Credit, his heart goes out to others who don’t.
“I could cry for people that need to go to food banks to survive,” he said, “This is a nasty, vile, mendacious policy.”
Since being introduced in December last year 8000 people in Fife are now in receipt of Universal Credit.
Of these, 3000 are Fife Council tenants and the direct impact on rent arrears is dramatic.
Latest figures (mid-May) reveal tenant arrears increased by over £700k.
More worrying still, the local authority predicts that figure could rise by over £100,000 per month as more people join the new system.
According to data I obtained from the Welfare Fund, crisis grants totalling over £225k were paid out to nearly 1900 new Universal Credit claimants from March to May this year in Fife alone.
In terms of comparison, during May 2018, a total of £120,611 was paid out in crisis grants – nearly double the £60,578 total issued in May 2017. Of this £77,707 was paid out to UC-related claimants.
The High Court ruled in a landmark case last week that two severely disabled men, one living with a terminal illness, experienced unlawful discrimination after moving on to Universal Credit.
Their benefits were significantly cut, leaving them unable to meet all their basic needs.
This ruling, which is being appealed but will surely be followed up by others, should leave the Department of Work and Pensions in no doubt that Universal Credit should be completely overhauled – and quickly.
If Labour were in power we would reform and redesign Universal Credit and implement a new Child Poverty Strategy.
We would also lift the Tories’ freeze on social security support which is penalising families, to ensure people get the support they need.
Last week’s report exposes the folly of not halting Universal Credit as it stands when they had the chance and brings shame on a government which professes to care for the most vulnerable people in its society.
The facts are now on the table for all to see. Universal Credit is yet another example of Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’.
Let’s see if her conscience will stop this ‘destitution by design’.

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