From the Daily Mirror: The reality of life on Universal Credit has been laid bare by struggling families who say it “simply does not work”.
From The Independent: Universal Credit is “broken” leaving claimants dependent on charity for food and falling into alarming levels of rents arrears, according to a council that was among the first in the UK to fully roll out the reform.
From The Guardian: Food banks in some of the poorest areas are preparing for a big rise in demand when universal credit is rolled out by calling for more donations and volunteers, and stockpiling essential supplies.
From The Independent: Around 3 million people will still be worse off on universal credit, despite Philip Hammond’s Budget U-turn to head off a Tory revolt, a study warns today.
From The Guardian: Britain’s biggest food bank charity has called for urgent changes to Universal Credit after unveiling figures that show it gave out more than 650,000 food parcels in the past six months – a year-on-year increase of 13%.
The Trussell Trust said the government’s insistence on making new claimants wait at least five weeks for their first universal credit payment was driving big increases in the numbers of benefit claimants relying on food banks.
“The only way to stop even more people being forced to food banks this winter will be to pause all new claims to universal credit, until funding is in place to reduce the five-week wait,” said Emma Revie, Trussell’s chief executive.
The trust said more than a fifth of referrals to its network of 428 food banks were generated as a result of claimants facing delays in benefit payments. Nearly a third of this group were waiting specifically for a first universal credit payment.
Revie said the benefits system was failing to protect claimants from hunger. “Our benefits system is supposed to anchor any of us from being swept into poverty, but if universal credit is to do that, we need to see urgent changes,” she said.
The trust said it gave out 658,000 emergency food parcels between April and the end of September. Of these 233,000 went to families with children. During the year 2017-18 it gave out a record 1.3m food parcels to an estimated 666,000 people.
From Daily Mirror: A family-of-three were expected to survive with less than a pound in their bank account for a week after a mistake over their benefits.
From The Guardian: Neil MacVicar writes… “Just a couple of weeks after my brain surgery, still struggling with fatigue and other side effects, I went to the Jobcentre to apply for universal credit. I desperately needed some help, after everything I’d been through. But instead of a saving grace, I was faced with another ordeal as I had to sit in front of a computer for an exhausting six hours to fill in the painstakingly long application form. I couldn’t believe this was the process for people, like me, who had been forced to leave jobs they loved because of ill health and were just trying to get by. Worse still, because I registered at the Jobcentre in Scotland, when I did eventually move back to London, I couldn’t change my home and benefits to there.
“A further insult was that, because I was under 26, I wasn’t termed an adult, so I was entitled to even less. This was despite the fact that I left home at 19 and have been independent since then. The whole thing was humiliating.
“People on the Universal Credit helpline weren’t any better. They dismissed my problems and told me I should go back home to Scotland. I felt real pressure to do this, but there’s nothing really left for me there. I don’t know many people there any more, it would just be me, mum and dad – and I’m no longer allowed to drive, which is a real disadvantage in a rural place like Inverness. I love being independent but cancer stole that and universal credit made it even worse. I feel like I’ve been penalised for having cancer and I just want to get my life back. Universal Credit was the worst part. I could deal with the cancer and the treatment, but not Universal Credit.”
From Sky News: Former Universal Credit case manager Bayard Tarpley writes about his experience working in its Grimsby call centre for two years…
Have you ever wondered if the service person on the end of the phone is being deliberately being obstructive?
Well the answer is yes. And I should know – I worked as a Universal Credit case manager where agents were trained to get people off the phone without answering their query.
The answers were from a “deflection script”.
And they were not what you want to hear if you’re a single mother desperate to pay your rent or face being kicked out your home.
From HuffPost UK: Ministers have been accused of taking an “ideological” decision to make it harder for Universal Credit claimants to secure childcare.
Dalia Ben-Galim, Director of Policy at Gingerbread – a charity that helps single parents – said people receiving the new benefit struggled compared to those in full time work.
Speaking to the Commons Work and Pensions committee on Wednesday, she noted there were two systems of claiming back the costs of childcare – one of those on Universal Credit and one for people in full time work.
The tax-return scheme non-benefit claiming parents use only requires proof their child is registered with a care provider.
People on Universal Credit must provide a receipt as evidence for each payment made to a care provider – which often get rejected over small details.
Ben-Galim said: “I think that is ideological, that is an active decision that has been made about how people depending on where they are on the income scale are treated.”
From Daily Mirror: A Tory mental health chief has admitted her party’s rollout of Universal Credit risks “failing” the “most vulnerable in our society”.
From the New Statesman: Jen is 47, and her husband is of pension age at 66. They receive Pension Credit to top up her husband’s state pension and his small workplace pension, as well as receiving the help with rent and council tax available to pensioners. Jen receives Carer’s Allowance, and her husband also claims the disability benefit Personal Independence Payments.
But with the new welfare system Universal Credit on its way, Jen calculates that they will end up £190 worse off a week, leaving them to live on about £100 a week.
From Daily Mirror: Esther McVey today admitted some Universal Credit claimants “will be worse off” in a car crash TV interview as Tory fury against the policy mounts.
From The Guardian: Esther McVey, the work and pensions secretary, has been forced to apologise to parliament after making misleading statements about the government’s faltering welfare changes.
The MP for Tatton’s statement followed the release of a damning letter from Sir Amyas Morse, who told the minister she had misinterpreted a report by the National Audit Office on Universal Credit to make it look as if the new welfare system was working well.
McVey should not have claimed universal credit was being rolled out too slowly when the NAO had said the DWP should ensure it was working properly before transferring any more people on to it from previous benefits, she was told.
She should not have said universal credit was working when the report said this was not proven, Morse said. She should not have claimed that the report had not taken into account recent improvements in welfare, when it was signed off days earlier by her department, he added.
From HuffPost UK: Two-thirds of frontline Department for Work and Pensions staff have said the roll-out of crisis-hit Universal Credit should be stopped, a Channel 4 investigation has revealed.
Some 70% of DWP staff say the roll out of Universal Credit should be stopped according to a survey carried out by a trade union.
The Public and Commercial Services Union poll found 79% of respondents felt there was not sufficient staff to meet demand from claimants.
The union, which represents frontline DWP staff, many of whom work in high street job centres, polled 550 of its members for a Dispatches documentary.
A whistleblower who currently works for the #DWP told the programme: “Sometimes we’ll have a couple of people on our team on leave or off sick and then the work really piles up at that point and these claims have not been given the due attention they deserve.
“A lot of [claimants] can miss their payments… It could mean that they won’t be able to eat for another couple of days, it’s very tough on them.”
From Daily Mirror: Stories collected by food bank charity The Trussell Trust included a mother “who considered giving up her own two children while she waited for her Universal Credit to come in so that they could finally get some food”.
From HuffPost UK: Thousands of people on Universal Credit are having 40% of their benefit deducted to pay back outstanding debts. In January, 6% of all “full service” claims had 40% deducted from their standard allowance, according to stats released in response to a written parliamentary question.
From The Guardian: Cash-strapped councils are being forced to set aside extra resources to cushion the blow of switching to universal credit for vulnerable households, according to analysis by Labour.
Responses to a series of freedom of information requests submitted by the party have revealed many local authorities are allocating significant funds to support tenants with rent arrears and provide advice to help them navigate the new system.
Newcastle city council reported that it was spending £390,000 supporting UC claimants, almost a quarter of which was for additional rent arrears support.
Liverpool city council said it had spent £175,000 from its local welfare provision scheme on UC claimants, while Shropshire council said it had set aside £20,000 to help food banks to “diversify the type of help they are able to give specifically to suit universal credit.”
In London, Tower Hamlets council said it had set aside £5m over three years to help those affected by the shift to UC, while Barking and Dagenham is budgeting £50,000 from January 2018.
In total, 26 councils said they had set aside extra resources or anticipated increased demand for welfare support as the UC rollout reaches their area.
From Welfare Weekly: Civil servants working for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have been handed over £40 million in performance-related bonuses, despite serious problems with the rollout of Universal Credit and a startling increase in the number of successful disability benefit appeals.
Figures show DWP staff were awarded £44 million in “good performance” bonuses in the last year, while thousands of new universal credit claimants were forced to a wait a minimum six weeks for their first payment and left at risk of becoming homeless because of rent arrears.
According to the figures, 240 senior DWP officials pocketed a total £760,000 in bonuses, while a further 88,300 junior staff were each handed an extra £1,750 in their pay packets.
From Gloucestershire Live: Protesters were out in force in Gloucester city centre on Saturday as part of a ‘national day of action’ in opposition to Universal Credit, the controversial new benefits system that will be rolled-out across Gloucestershire in February.
The protest was organised by the local Unite branch, part of Britain’s biggest union, and saw campaigners deliver soapbox speeches outside the Guildhall on Eastgate Street.
Sue Powell, a Unite Community Activist said ‘the effect of Universal Credit will be felt for years to come’.
She said: “Universal Credit is a failed system. Seven million households will be affected by the introduction of Universal Credit, including over one million low paid or part-time workers, as well as the growing number of self-employed.