The mis­ery, de­spair and pain of uni­ver­sal credit

The Guardian - Journal - - Letters -

Ray Tay­lor (Need to sign on?

You’ll have to walk 24 miles to the job­cen­tre, 7 Jan­uary) is just one of many vic­tims of uni­ver­sal credit (UC). Re­cently there has been a lot of talk and dis­cus­sion of the prob­lems with the roll-out of UC. How­ever, the ba­sic prob­lem is not about the way the roll-out has been mis­han­dled but about the un­der­ly­ing val­ues and the ethos shap­ing the de­sign of UC.

As Philip Al­ston, UN spe­cial rap­por­teur on ex­treme poverty and hu­man rights, said in his Novem­ber re­port on poverty in UK, “In the area of poverty-re­lated pol­icy, the ev­i­dence points to the con­clu­sion that the driv­ing force has not been eco­nomic but rather a com­mit­ment to achiev­ing rad­i­cal so­cial re-en­gi­neer­ing … to pur­sue a sin­gle­minded … fo­cus on get­ting peo­ple into em­ploy­ment at all costs … and want­ing to make clear that be­ing on ben­e­fits should in­volve hard­ship”.

It is claimed that the great virtue of UC is that it sim­pli­fies the sys­tem. Even this is not true as it only deals with the six most eas­ily un­der­stood ben­e­fits (in fact three, as the other three are re­ally vari­a­tions on job­seeker’s al­lowance) and not with the mul­ti­plic­ity of other ben­e­fits which have grown up to fix one or other of the ben­e­fit prob­lems. The com­bin­ing into UC of these three ben­e­fits, all un­der the con­trol of sep­a­rate agen­cies, en­ables the job­cen­tre staff to re­move job­seeker’s sup­port, hous­ing ben­e­fit and child tax credit all at once so that fam­i­lies are des­ti­tute and li­able to lose their homes. Pre-UC this could not hap­pen as job­cen­tre staff only had con­trol of job­seeker’s al­lowance. The only so­lu­tion to the prob­lems of uni­ver­sal credit is to get rid of it.

Michael McLough­lin

Walling­ton, Sur­rey

In ru­ral ar­eas of Scot­land vis­its are made by Post Of­fice and bank buses. Why can’t the Depart­ment for Work and Pen­sions pro­vide a sim­i­lar sys­tem, since it was they who closed all the job­cen­tres. On the is­sue of bus ser­vices and fares, I am sure it would not cost too much to of­fer ev­ery­one a bus pass and im­prove ser­vices. There are many peo­ple who would never use a bus, but it could be a life­line for so many peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ties. Hope­fully Louise Tickle’s ar­ti­cle will help Ray Tay­lor to se­cure em­ploy­ment nearer to his home.

Mar­garet Van­de­cas­teele

Wick, Caith­ness

I have just gone through the or­deal that the govern­ment say is an easy tran­si­tion to the new uni­ver­sal credit. The past five weeks have been one of the most stress­ful pe­ri­ods of my life, just like ev­ery time the govern­ment de­cides it want to cru­cify the most vulnerable of the coun­try.

On Mon­day my uni­ver­sal credit was awarded, leav­ing me £93.58 per four weeks worse off com­pared with the em­ploy­ment and sup­port al­lowance and hous­ing ben­e­fit that I had. This now means a choice of food, heat or trans­porta­tion. If I have to sell my car this will leave me house­bound. I al­ready had to bud­get just £20 per week for food (be­fore the re­duc­tion in my ben­e­fits). As for heat­ing, I could only af­ford to put the heat­ing on when my flat is below 10C, and only rais­ing it to 12C.

I am dis­abled, with me­chan­i­cal sco­l­io­sis from an ac­ci­dent, mean­ing I walk with crutches in­doors and use a wheel­chair all other times. I also have Ray­naud’s, which means my cir­cu­la­tion is se­verely re­stricted to my ex­trem­i­ties. I suf­fer from deep de­pres­sion with high anx­i­ety. I can now see why other peo­ple have been driven to sui­cide by the govern­ment tak­ing more and more away from the most vulnerable of this coun­try.

Name and ad­dress sup­plied

I won­der if Am­ber Rudd saw Les Misérables on BBC One on Sun­day, where Fan­tine was forced to sell her hair, teeth and, in­evitably, her­self. The day be­fore on BBC Two, the ti­tle char­ac­ter of I, Daniel Blake was dy­ing in a DWP toi­let af­ter be­ing forced to sell his be­long­ings by the “wel­fare” sys­tem. My Jan­uary uni­ver­sal credit pay­ment was £346 as I’d earned £185 in Novem­ber. My rent is £317. My (Labour) MP is si­lent.

Paul Bur­nett

Leeds

If any ben­e­fit sys­tem is to be fair, fol­low­ing the dis­as­ter of the uni­ver­sal credit il­lus­trated by I, Daniel Blake, the fol­low­ing golden rule ought to ap­ply: for the health and well­be­ing of

Name and ad­dress sup­plied

the low­est-in­come men, women and chil­dren to flour­ish, the min­i­mum house­hold in­come must be enough to buy a healthy diet, wa­ter, fuel, clothes, trans­port and other ne­ces­si­ties af­ter the rent, coun­cil and in­come taxes are paid.

The min­i­mum in­come stan­dards (MIS) re­search needed by govern­ment was com­mis­sioned from the Fam­ily Bud­get Unit by the Zac­cha­eus 2000 Trust and pub­lished in 1998. MIS are now avail­able from the Joseph Rown­tree Foun­da­tion through the Liv­ing Wage Foun­da­tion. Achiev­ing the good health and well­be­ing of ev­ery UK cit­i­zen in or out of work must be­come a na­tional pri­or­ity.

Rev Paul Ni­col­son

Tax­pay­ers Against Poverty

Re your ar­ti­cle (Sin­gle moth­ers make up 85% of peo­ple with ben­e­fits capped, 4 Jan­uary), we know that chil­dren par­tic­u­larly are suffering as a re­sult of this pol­icy. An ar­ti­cle on 17 De­cem­ber de­scribed teach­ers’ warn­ing that many pupils in Eng­land were hun­gry and badly clothed. I feel ashamed that this ap­palling sit­u­a­tion ex­ists in this coun­try in the 21st-cen­tury and is get­ting worse.

My fa­ther died in 1962. My brother was 14, I was 10. My mother al­ways had two or three part-time jobs. Ev­ery time she earned more than

£15 a week, her wid­owed mother’s child al­lowance was re­duced. It was a poverty trap. Here we are more than 50 years later and peo­ple are still in a poverty trap. To­day, though, the wealth di­vide is wider than ever. Some­thing is se­ri­ously wrong with the sys­tem if chil­dren are go­ing to school hun­gry. No pol­icy, whatever the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, is ac­cept­able if it causes so much suffering.

Sarah Tay­lor

Winch­ester Sa­mar­i­tans can be called on 116 123

Uni­ver­sal credit has left me £93.58 per four weeks worse off. This now means a choice of food, heat or trans­porta­tion

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