Struggling to find Christmas Cheer 2018
Watching News at Ten on TV on 19 December 2018 was an experience short on Christmas cheer especially when a report on Hartlepool was shown. Hartlepool has been one of the towns hardest hit by the recent welfare reforms. The impact of austerity and Universal Credit (UC) was obvious at one of the town’s food bank which is struggling to meet the demand. In 2010 there were no food banks or kitchen in the town. Now there are nine. The report included harrowing individual accounts of people’s struggle to survive.
The despair evident in Hartlepool is not unique. A report from Hastings published by the Guardian on 23 November 2018 highlighted the distress and fragile mental state of many social security clients. The arrival of UC in Hastings in 2016 “was soon felt by the local food bank, where demand shot up virtually overnight by 80%.” Hastings is particularly relevant to the UC experience as it is the constituency of Amber Rudd, the new Work and Pensions Secretary, so she has first-hand experience of the challenges people are facing. Notably one of Ms Rudd’s first acts in her new role was to acknowledge the problems with UC and her commitment to fixing them.
Cause for optimism – further rollback of the universal credit rollout?
This commitment from Ms Rudd was evident when she faced her first grilling by Members of Parliament on the Work and Pensions Select Committee on 19 December 2018. She was said by the Guardian to have struck a conciliatory tone on the subject of UC. Whilst still maintaining that she is enthusiastic about the new system Ms Rudd said that she would not rush the rollout simply to meet arbitrary timetables. It was reported that she would look again at controversial aspects of UC and wanted to ensure the most vulnerable were safely moved on to the new system.
The subject of charity food parcels was raised. She acknowledged it was an issue and does “not want people to have to go to food banks.”
Good news for some – Mums on UC to have direct access to benefit cash
There is good news for people with abusive partners. Mrs Rudd is intending to bring forward new proposals soon which will ensure that primary caregivers, usually women, receive the main payment directly.
She also appeared to be addressing other key issues surrounding the rollout of UC. Ms Rudd said she would be willing to delay the rollout even further than already announced in order to get things right and “make sure it’s effective.” On another key cause for concern i.e. the delay in obtaining benefits she admitted that the five week wait was too long if claimants don’t get an advance payment to help them out.
Bad news for others – UC could be disastrous for disabled people
The Parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee in a new report warns that thousands of disabled people are set to lose out on vital additional support as a result of the government removing disability premiums under UC. The premiums are worth up to £64 per week for a single person. Frank Field, Chairman of the Committee, said that the plans would see very disabled people getting the extra help they need at the cost of other disabled people. This includes families with severely disabled children who will receive more UC than those less affected.
Citizens Advice has also warned that UC is “penalising” single disabled people due to flaws in its design. In a report published at the end of October 2018 Citizens Advice revealed a significant drop in financial support for single disabled people in a range of circumstances. This can amount to losses of more than £300 a month for working disabled people.
More children poorer than five years ago
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s latest annual poverty report half a million more children are trapped in poverty in Britain than five years ago. This follows a relentless rise in the number of working class families struggling to make ends meet. The report highlights the need to act urgently to halt this rise as well as among children in workless families.
Austerity plus UC exacerbates child poverty
The charity Action for Children recently warned that the UK risks ‘Dickensian’ levels of poverty as a new analysis of government data shows a million children under 10 years old face a desperate Christmas this year. The charity says the double blow of austerity and ongoing problems with universal credit is exacerbating hardship
Jean Kilshaw, on behalf of Feeding Camden