Universal credit, universal harm

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2013 National Women's Conference
15 October 2012

Conference is deeply concerned at the potentially damaging effect that the government’s welfare reform and universal credit will have on women, their families and their lives.

Already the changes to working tax credit, requiring at least one person in the household to work more than 24 hours per week, have meant that hundreds of thousands of women and children have lost out. To expect workers to find additional working hours in a time of cuts and job losses was unrealistic, yet these families have been targeted for a significant cut in their household income.

Problems with the new work capability assessments – where terminally ill and disabled people have been unfairly passed fit for work – are an indication of how chaotic and potentially unfair the introduction of personal independence payments from April 2013 is likely to be;

The new universal credit proposals:

1) will cut household income for the hundreds of thousands of women working in the public sector who are affected by redundancy as a result of the government’s austerity measures. 80% of those losing their jobs are women, and the number of unemployed women now stands at a 25 year high;

2) include financial penalties for “under-occupancy” of homes, which will disproportionately affect older and single women and lone mothers;

3) will introduce payments to only one person in a household, threatening women’s financial security if their partner insists of being the person receiving payment and refuses to meet household bills;

4) as a result of changes to housing allowances for people under 35, will impact on young women who are unable to remain in the family home, particularly young women who may be subjected to physical or sexual abuse, or LGBT women excluded from their family home;

5) will introduce a benefits cap which Women’s Aid have warned could lead to the closure of women’s refuges and emergency accommodation due to the necessarily high cost of providing such services.

Conference believes that these changes will lead to debt and poverty, to many more women becoming unpaid carers and will put women at risk from violent and abusive relationships.

Conference calls on the national women’s committee to :

a) raise awareness of the implications of the introduction of universal credit and welfare reform;

b) work with the NEC, Labour Link, appropriate UNISON departments and partner organisations to campaign against these changes and to continue to monitor their impact on UNISON members;

c) liaise with There For You, UNISON welfare, to ensure that sources of help and advice are signposted for members in need.