Halt the roll­out of Uni­ver­sal Credit

Stirling Observer - - REMEMBRANCE DAY - Claire Baker

In a few weeks time, on De­cem­ber 6, we will see the roll­out of one of the UK Gov­ern­ment’s flag­ship poli­cies, Uni­ver­sal Credit.

It’s a pay­ment to meet liv­ing costs and re­places a num­ber of ex­ist­ing ben­e­fits in­clud­ing Child Tax Credit, Hous­ing Ben­e­fit, in­come-based Job­seeker’s Al­lowances and Work­ing Tax Cred­its.

As a re­sult, the new pay­ment con­sists of a ba­sic “stan­dard al­lowance” and ex­tra pay­ments that de­pend on in­di­vid­ual cir­cum­stances. For ex­am­ple, you may be el­i­gi­ble for ex­tra pay­ments if you have chil­dren, you are dis­abled or you care for some­one.

How­ever, the pol­icy is deeply flawed. The Con­ser­va­tive Gov­ern­ment has faced wide­spread crit­i­cism about its plans for press­ing on with this de­spite its faults and there have been re­peated calls for it to be halted.

In par­tic­u­lar, those who find them­selves hav­ing to ap­ply for Uni­ver­sal Credit on or after De­cem­ber 6 face hav­ing to wait up to six weeks be­fore re­ceiv­ing any ben­e­fits.

That is six weeks with­out vi­tal sup­port dur­ing an al­ready fi­nan­cially chal­leng­ing pe­riod.

Christ­mas and New Year does bring a lot of joy to fam­i­lies across Scot­land but it can also bring bud­get wor­ries.

A six-week de­lay will put many peo­ple in Scot­land un­der fi­nan­cial pres­sure and pos­si­bly fac­ing des­ti­tu­tion. If you are al­ready liv­ing on the bread­line, you can­not sus­tain this length of time with­out any sup­port.

In ar­eas where the scheme has been pi­loted, the six-week pay­ment de­lay has led to re­cip­i­ents hav­ing to rely on emer­gency grants and food banks to af­ford ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties.

Ac­cord­ing to Cit­i­zens Ad­vice Scot­land we have seen a 15 per cent rise in rent ar­rears is­sues in the pi­lot ar­eas, com­pared to a na­tional de­crease of two per cent.

There has been an 87 per cent in­crease in Cri­sis Grant is­sues, com­pared to a na­tional in­crease of only nine per cent.

And two of five bu­reaux in im­pacted ar­eas have seen a 40 per cent and a 70 per cent in­crease in ad­vice about ac­cess to food banks.

It is also worth re­mem­ber­ing that over the fes­tive pe­riod many of the vi­tal char­i­ties and agen­cies that those in need will turn to may be closed for a well-earned break.

I re­cently at­tended a plan­ning meet­ing for one of the lo­cal food­banks within the re­gion.

Al­ready they are try­ing to plan for what they pre­dict might hap­pen once Uni­ver­sal Credit is in­tro­duced and are re­view­ing the sup­port that they can pro­vide. This is yet an­other chal­leng­ing prospect for many or­gan­i­sa­tions who are al­ready fac­ing fi­nan­cial pres­sures.

I have real fears that peo­ple across the re­gion will be fac­ing se­ri­ous hard­ship dur­ing their six-week wait, es­pe­cially over the month ahead.

There is a real po­ten­tial for peo­ple to be in a po­si­tion where they are un­able to pro­vide heat­ing and food, never mind the fes­tiv­i­ties that are as­so­ci­ated with Christ­mas.

While the idea be­hind sim­pli­fy­ing the ben­e­fits sys­tem and en­sur­ing work pays has merit, this can­not be at the ex­pense of push­ing peo­ple into debt, of­ten leav­ing them vul­ner­a­ble to loan sharks and high in­ter­est lend­ing.

Al­ready the Cit­i­zens Ad­vice Bureau has helped more than 100,000 peo­ple. Uni­ver­sal Credit in its cur­rent form is forc­ing more peo­ple in debt, which they will find it dif­fi­cult to re­cover from.

That is why the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment, with the ex­cep­tion of the Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tives, has voted to de­mand its roll­out in Scot­land is halted.

We can­not ig­nore the ev­i­dence that shows it will cause dam­age to some of the most vul­ner­a­ble mem­bers of our so­ci­ety. The UK Gov­ern­ment must lis­ten.

Real fears that peo­ple will be fac­ing se­ri­ous hard­ship dur­ing their six-week wait

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