It is be­com­ing a Uni­ver­sal cri­sis

The Peterborough Evening Telegraph - - WESTMINSTERLIFE - Fiona Onasanya

Iwas brought up to be­lieve that mis­takes are sim­ply mis­taken steps: you should ad­mit er­ror quickly, learn from it, and move on. It’s a very straight­for­ward prin­ci­ple: it’s the foun­da­tion of good char­ac­ter. Hon­esty is an in­te­gral part of free­dom; the de­ceit­ful are shack­led to their fic­tions.

As au­tumn pro­gresses, how­ever, it ap­pears that this govern­ment will con­tinue to chain it­self to premises which are un­sus­tain­able. There is no such thing as be­ing able to have one’s cake and eat it too. Ne­go­ti­a­tions with Brus­sels are not pro­ceed­ing well. This is not a “coun­try that works for ev­ery­one”, nor are the foun­da­tions for any such thing be­ing laid at the mo­ment.

Uni­ver­sal credit pro­vides a most crit­i­cal ex­am­ple. The idea, in prin­ci­ple, is not a bad one: given the com­plex­ity of our ben­e­fits sys­tem, mak­ing it eas­ier for re­cip­i­ents to un­der­stand and cheaper for the govern­ment to ad­min­is­ter, sounds like a com­mon sense ap­proach.

How­ever, the govern­ment needed to be care­ful when im­ple­ment­ing it. I’ve heard min­is­ters re­cite dry sta­tis­tics about the roll-out of Uni­ver­sal Credit; it’s as if they want the num­bers to ob­scure the hu­man be­ings be­hind the fig­ures. How­ever, there are some facts which make the scale of the govern­ment’s mis­takes ap­par­ent.

Ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion ob­tained by the Ob­server news­pa­per, half of all coun­cil ten­ants who re­ceive the hous­ing el­e­ment of Uni­ver­sal Credit are in ar­rears. 30% of them, as of Septem­ber 2017, are at least two months be­hind. This com­pares to less than 10% for those who re­mained on the old sys­tem.

Now go be­yond the sta­tis­tics: pic­ture a fam­ily that has been shifted onto Uni­ver­sal Credit and is try­ing to get by dur­ing the 6-week pe­riod be­fore they re­ceive their first pay­ment.

They are be­hind on their rent; the nights are draw­ing in, and tem­per­a­tures are be­gin­ning to drop. A grim choice be­tween heat­ing or eat­ing awaits. Warn­ings are shoved through the let­ter­box, marked in red, ad­vis­ing of dire con­se­quences if pay­ment isn’t made im­me­di­ately.

They can’t move as land­lords won’t ac­cept peo­ple on Uni­ver­sal Credit. They have done noth­ing wrong: they have fol­lowed the rules. This is one story, re­peated count­less times through­out our coun­try. Yet the govern­ment is un­de­terred; it seems more con­cerned about a timetable than it does about peo­ple los­ing their homes.

This govern­ment has often pro­claimed that it wants a “coun­try that works for ev­ery­one.”

How much bet­ter it would be if they could pause the roll-out of Uni­ver­sal Credit, which is hurt­ing and not work­ing, at least un­til there is a re­think of how it is be­ing im­ple­mented.

Fur­ther­more, it would be bet­ter if they could be hon­est and say, yes, Uni­ver­sal Credit hasn’t worked as in­tended, we’re sorry, we’ll stop un­til we can do it prop­erly. Such a state­ment would show char­ac­ter. Such a state­ment would free so many from fear, rather than con­tinue to plunge them into this uni­ver­sal cri­sis.

Peter­bor­ough’s MP writes her reg­u­lar col­umn for the Peter­bor­ough Tele­graph

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