Universal Credit: the struggle continues

Paula BBC UC Inside Welfare State 3
Mum Paula talks about the stress she is under from the Universal Credit repayments.  Photo from BBC clip.

Tonight on BBC2 at 9pm: Episode 3 of Universal Credit — Inside the Welfare State.

This week’s episode from Bolton, shows the struggles of mum Paula, and Jenny, a waitress on a zero-hour contract.  We haven’t seen the full programme, only the clip from the BBC.  But the clip makes out that the problem is giving claimants too much money — not the 5-week waiting time and having to repay the advance.

Last week’s episode in Liverpool was about Susan, Zach and Laryssa.

  • Susan aged 61 was terrified of being sanctioned, and looked exhausted as she had to get three part-time jobs to replace the full-time cleaning job she lost when she was made redundant.
  • Zach was doing everything to find work, but nobody mentioned that he may be able to get Carers Allowance instead, as he looks after his mum at home.
  • Laryssa was a week away from giving birth and still without money — proof of attending school in Liverpool was not enough to get through the draconian Habitual Residence Test.  She had to travel back to the Jobcentre while heavily pregnant, to produce her father’s payslips.  She couldn’t find all the months they asked for.  Finally, the Jobcentre staff got another office to check his work record — which could have been done in the first place.

Mark Serwotka, head of the PCS union which represents Jobcentre and DWP staff, has said again recently that the system needed to be scrapped and replaced.  He said:

“Universal Credit is a disaster for claimants and needs to be scrapped in favour of a more humane system.  At the moment claimants face immense hardships and barriers accessing UC, causing them to fall into debt homeless and in some cases, even contemplate taking their own lives.  Our members are passionate about helping those in need and do their utmost under the circumstances. However, they cannot make a system work that is fundamentally hurting those it is supposed to help.

This is in contrast to others who say that it needs “reform”.

Loss of severe disability premium

The solicitors Leigh Day represent two disabled men who each lost around £180 a month severe disability premium added to ESA,  when they moved to a new area and claimed Universal Credit.   Yesterday, Leigh Day called on the government to stop opposing the judges’ rulings that the two disabled men, and others in the same situation, should get the same benefit as people on ESA.  The disabled men have won twice in court, supported by benefit campaigners, including us.  But the DWP is still spending huge amounts of money on lawyers to appeal these rulings.

About 10,000 severely disabled people lost out in this way, moving from ESA to UC, before the DWP put in place the regulation banning new UC claims for people previously on ESA and severe disability premium.

Some people think that winning these court challenges has restored severe disability premium as part of Universal Credit.  Unfortunately this is not true, although the first ruling stopped more disabled people being forced onto Universal Credit.  The court cases are about people who used to be on ESA: equal treatment between people who “voluntarily” move to UC when their circumstances change, and ESA claimants who are told to change by the DWP, who will get a top-up called “transitional protection” if and when they start to claim UC.

New claimants lose out

Disabled people who are claiming “out of work” benefits for the first time, won’t get any extra help on UC, so the struggle continues.

A 2019 report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission stated that:  “Disabled people and families with disabled children have been found to be among those most negatively affected by tax and welfare reforms [including Universal Credit]”.  They reported:

  • The most disabled being the worst hit.
  • Disabled lone parents [overwhelmingly disabled single mums] with at least one disabled child lose almost £10,000 of net income a year.

This cumulative impact (different things added together) is largely due to Universal Credit.  Single mother families with disabled children lose the most because Universal Credit abolishes the severe disability premium for disabled adults living alone, and cuts by half the amount for a child with moderate disabilities, compared to the previous child tax credits.  See this guide to the UC disability elements by the Child Poverty Action Group.

We still say — Stop and Scrap Universal Credit!



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