Britain needs a Fairer Social Security System for All

Cllr Alan Hall is supporting Unite Community’s campaign for a fairer social security system for all, which works to end poverty, and which allows claimants to live with dignity. He joins the campaigners who say:

“Universal Credit is a brutal, discredited system which causes severe hardship, misery, suffering and even deaths not least because there is an enforced 5 week wait before the first award is received.”

“At the start of the Coronavirus crisis, the government was faced with unprecedented numbers of new claimants who would learn the harsh reality of today’s welfare system for the first time. To ward off the backlash this would create, the government made a snap increase of £20 to the weekly rate for Universal Credit AND suspended the harsh sanctions regime, which sees many claimants unable to feed their children or pay their rent.”

“However, this increase is only temporary and this only applies to Universal Credit claimants – people on Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA), including many disabled people, have been left behind. This is unfair.”

Unite the Union have these key demands

Making Universal Credit increase permanent
The basic rate of Universal Credit is not enough to live off, even with the temporary £20 per week increase the government introduced for the Covid crisis, so the case for making it permanent is overwhelming.
• “Today – even after the recent increase of £20 a week – the basic rate of Universal Credit is worth just a sixth of average weekly pay at £94 a week.” (TUC, 6th April 2020)
• If Universal Credit was linked to the real living wage and paid at 80% of that, then this would be £260 per week as opposed to £94 per week. (TUC, 6th April 2020)
• “Unemployment support in the UK compares poorly with other European countries, where benefits are paid as a proportion of previous earnings, ranging from 60% in Germany to 90% in Denmark.” (TUC, 6th April 2020)
• Drawing on data from over 400 foodbanks, the Trussell Trust found that foodbank use increased by a third in areas where Universal Credit had operated for a year and there was a 40% or more increase in areas where it had operated for longer. (Guardian, 19th September 2019)

End the five-week wait for Universal Credit
Unite is calling for an end to the five-week wait for people who claim Universal Credit because it causes real hardship. It has come as a shock to many of those applying for it in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The wait should be accompanied by a one-off non-repayable grant, which many campaigners and some MPs are calling for.
• A recent survey by Citizens Advice of over 500 claimants found that “14% who applied for universal credit since the lockdown were unable to afford food and heating while waiting for a first payment, while one in five (19%) borrowed from family and friends.” (Guardian, 11th June, 2020)
• The Citizens Advice also survey found that “More than half of people claiming universal credit for the first time during the coronavirus lockdown experienced hardship while waiting for a first payment, with many “too scared” to take out a government loan to tide them over” (Guardian, 11th June, 2020)
• Those waiting for five weeks face destitution, according to the Trussell Trust, and were unable to eat properly, pay bills and fell into rent arrears. (Guardian, 19th September 2019)

Applying £20 Universal Credit increase to people on other benefits
Not to apply the Universal Credit £20 increase to people on other benefits is groundless, unjust and unsustainable.
• The Disability Benefits Consortium, which consists of 100 disability organisations, supports the case for this in relation to ESA. (Guardian 30th March 2020)
• The Government’s own Social Security Advisory Committee has urged the Government to pay the increase to those on legacy benefits in the interests of equity and that it should be backdated to 6th April 2020:
“We are of the strong view that it is increasingly untenable for this group of claimants to be excluded and to continue to have a lower level of income than those in receipt of Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit” (Letter to Secretary of State, 1st June 2020)

The House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee has published a report recently ‘DWP’s response to coronavirus outbreak’ this examines the Universal Credit and the need for changes to the social security system.

Labour’s Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said:

MPs are speaking out

“DWP’s frontline staff have worked hard to get support to millions of people. Without their actions, the impact of the pandemic could have been much worse. But the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted weaknesses in a social security system which at times is too inflexible and slow to adapt to support people in times of crisis.

The focus has mostly been on the unprecedented numbers of new claims for Universal Credit. But in the background, people on legacy benefits—including disabled people, carers and people with young families—have slipped down the list of priorities. It’s now time for the Government to redress that balance and increase legacy benefits too. It’s simply not right for people to miss out on support just because they happen, through no fault of their own, to be claiming the ‘wrong’ kind of benefit.

At the same time, people whose immigration status leaves them with no recourse to public funds have been left with no support from the benefits system at all—and at risk of destitution and homelessness. Some have had to face the invidious choice between staying at home and facing financial ruin, for themselves and their children, or going to work and risking spreading the disease. The Government must suspend these rules for the duration of the pandemic.

The labour market will be transformed by coronavirus. Young people, disabled people and people on low pay are among those likely to be worst hit. Large scale employment programmes take months to set up: DWP needs to get on top of this now.”

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