Feeding Camden November 2018
With so much of the country’s attention focused on Brexit one could be forgiven for thinking that Universal Credit (UC) would have featured less in the news recently. Not at all. News has been coming in thick and fast.
Brexit resignation – impact on UC
In fact Universal Credit got caught up with Brexit with the high profile resignation from the government of Esther McVey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, on November 15 in the midst of the Brexit government turmoil. This prompted Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to tweet “I just hope that Esther McVey takes the travesty that is Universal Credit out the door with her.”
I just hope that Esther McVey takes the travesty that is Universal Credit out the door with her.
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) November 15, 2018
Esther McVey was promptly replaced by Amber Rudd. In her first appearance as Work and Pensions Secretary in the House of Commons on November 19 Ms Rudd admitted “there were problems with Universal Credit despite its good intentions” adding “I’ve seen them for myself.” She promised to deliver “a fair, compassionate and efficient benefits system” and “will be listening and learning from the expert groups in this area who do such good work.”
Damning UN audit into austerity in Britain
Ms Rudd also used this appearance to accuse the United Nations of launching a political attack on the British Government after Professor Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on poverty and human rights, published a damning report into the scale of poverty in the UK. Ms Rudd said she profoundly disagreed with his approach.
Professor Alston’s “audit” has received much coverage in the media with the Guardian giving it particular prominence. The report is wide-ranging and considers the impact of austerity especially on vulnerable groups e.g. children, the disabled and women and refers to the situation in various parts of the country following his 2-week visit here.
As part of its coverage the Guardian published a summary of key points. This is the gist re Universal Credit. Alston’s opinion was that the programme to simplify the benefits system was a good idea in principle but was “fast falling into universal discredit.” Claimants are driven into hardship, depression and despair. UC should be overhauled.
The latter conclusion is hardly original. Interestingly an earlier opinion from the Economist at the end of October is in agreement – UC should be overhauled rather than be abandoned.
UC could yet be a success
This optimistic view was also asserted by the Economist. Whilst acknowledging that the launch of UC has been disastrous with botched implementation a Leading Article “Credit comes later” states that it could yet be a success if the government corrects its mistakes starting by providing more money.
The Leader concludes: “Make no mistake: universal credit has so far done more harm than good. But it is a policy worth rescuing – and not just because doing so is good politics.”
This should be music to Amber Rudd’s ears!
In the meantime whilst the future of UC is being debated there is more evidence of the current negative impact.
Further increase in foodbank use – support the Tesco food collection
The Trussell Trust latest figures for foodbank use revealed that in the period April – September 2018 there was a 13% increase compared with the same period in 2017.
In total 658,048 emergency supplies were provided. Of these 232,761 went to children. The main reasons for referral in this period were benefit payments not covering the cost of essentials (31%) benefit delays (22%) and benefit changes (17%).
The charity is calling for the Department of Work and Pensions to be resourced to reduce the five-week minimum wait for a first payment.
The increased need is more reason to support the Tesco national food collection at the end of November.
Jean Kilshaw, on behalf of Feeding Camden