The new Universal Credit scheme will leave misery, fear, and chaos in its wake

The Sun on Sunday - 08 Oct 2017

At last week’s omnishambles, which the Tories staged as their conference, the chaos was such that most people would have missed the most significant and divisive change any government since the Second World War has made to the welfare state.

The aim of the welfare state has always been to provide a safety net which prevents hunger and destitution.

Yet the Government announced last week that it is putting its foot on the accelerator to implement a welfare state where there is, for long periods of time, no adequate safety net – not one influential voice or organisation has asked the Government to do so.

That welfare state will sail under the colours of a new benefit called Universal Credit.

On the surface Universal Credit can appear attractive.

It aims to simplify the welfare state, make it easier for people to claim their entitlement, and improve incentives to work.

But implementing Universal Credit matches the omnishambles at the Manchester conference.

Worse still, it leaves misery, fear, and chaos in its wake.

As it rolls up into a single payment six existing benefits people can be entitled to, Universal Credit also means people are without any financial support at all for anywhere between six and twelve weeks.

Universal Credit began to be rolled out, as it’s called in the trade, in 2013.

Immediately the script fell apart.

People have to apply online and Universal Credit’s IT system acts like a Berlin Wall to claiming successfully.

Until a claim is made successfully the clock doesn’t start ticking for a first payment to be made at the very earliest in six weeks’ time.

When payments arrive they include the family’s rent payments.

This simply overwhelms some families who, until now, have always had their rent paid direct to landlords.

No surprise, therefore, that huge numbers of claimants are in arrears with their rent payments and many of them already face eviction.

But what of that minimum six-week waiting time?

Universal Credit is based on the assumption that we all have savings, that we’ve all been in work, and that wages will keep families going until the first payment in six weeks.

That is untrue for many middle-class, let alone working-class families who have little or no savings.

Also many claimants are unemployed and therefore don’t have any money due to them from previous employers.

No one doubts that those who devised Universal Credit meant well. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And hell it has been for all too many vulnerable families having to try and claim Universal Credit.

Rents have gone unpaid. Utility bills have likewise been unpaid, as families struggle to put food on the table.

The food bank in my constituency is facing the prospect of becoming Old Mother Hubbard over Christmas – such is the whacking great dent that the speeding up of Universal Credit will put in its stock.

That is why the most significant event of the Tories’ omnishambles in Manchester was its intention of putting its foot down to accelerate the rollout of a benefit that, even in its early life, simply doesn’t work to protect vulnerable claimants.