Universal Credit

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2018 National Delegate Conference
1 January 2018

Conference notes that:

1) Universal Credit (UC) has been beset with IT failures and delays;

2) There have been many criticisms of UC, which while not opposing UC wholesale, have led to calls for the removal of some of the anti-claimant elements of UC, for example an end to in work sanctions, increased conditionality, monthly payments and the two child rule.

It is increasingly clear that the introduction of UC is being used by the Government as an excuse for introducing cuts to the total benefit bill at the expense of unemployed and low paid workers.

Conference is very concerned that the Conservative minority government will continue on its path to drive disabled citizens and our disabled members into poverty by its implementation of Universal Credit.

This is in addition to changes to Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) where people have lost their entitlement or seen it significantly reduced in what is a financially devastating double impact for disabled people affected by cuts in both PIP and UC.

The withdrawal of extra premiums in Employment Support Allowance (ESA) for those in the Work Related group can mean a cut of over £30 per week and in some cases over £70 per week, with even higher losses in UC. There will be transitional protection for those already getting the premiums when people are moved to UC but their benefit level is frozen until it meets the level under the new regulations. Where claimants move from ESA to UC due to a change in their circumstances, no protection is available and benefit levels are significantly reduced unless in the Work Related group.

Any disabled claimant who transfers to UC from tax credit, in part time work, will have to undergo a work capability assessment and if found fit for work may be forced to look for increased hours.

The National Disabled Members Committee has been proactive working with local MPs and the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in clarifying regulations where decision makers have got it wrong. This means contribution related ESA claimants can now keep that benefit and only have to claim housing costs element through Universal Credit with the ESA deducted from their UC rate. Housing costs are only deducted if the cost is to be paid directly to a landlord, otherwise all of the UC is paid directly to the claimant who is then left with the responsibility of paying the housing costs themselves, except in Scotland.

Universal Credit will impact on both disabled members and other members as it will replace Tax Credits. The benefit pays less money for those who will transfer from (ESA) and the existing Tax Credit system and there will not be the same disability premiums.

For part time workers, there will be the compulsion to find more hours whether you are disabled or not. Any person claiming housing benefit who moves house to another local authority will be forced onto this benefit, alongside the draconian requirements it entails that will cause greater problems for individuals.

Except in Scotland where some different rules apply, Universal Credit is only paid calendar monthly, which again will cause hardship to many disabled people, as some disabled people may find it difficult to cope with such long periods between receipt of payments. With a lack of access to other support such as foodbanks, they run the risk of going without food and falling ill. They are more likely to be unable to keep up their utility payments and risk having no energy supplies to heat food or to keep themselves warm in winter.

We know from experience of the original sanctions imposed on claimants that this will only create the environment for more deaths of claimants unable to cope with these disastrous changes. We know that disabled people have far greater costs and this may force them to seek loans or ask for advance payments from Department of Work and Pensions to be paid back in an unreasonable length of time.

Conference notes there are huge delays in Work Capability Assessments in Universal Credit for new claimants and before decisions are made people could lose benefit for months and pushed into greater poverty and/or homelessness. Existing Support group claimants maintain that status when moved to UC and so get the extra payment, however the Work Related group only get the basic level of ESA. PIP or DLA are not a passport to extra premiums under UC.

To make matters worse, the government announced in February that they would be going ahead with their plans to impose a new income threshold of £7,400 for free school meals, replacing the existing system where benefit claimants automatically qualify for free school meals. Not only will this impact further on disabled families, it will make it more difficult to measure any increase in inequality and poverty as a result of the roll out of UC, as equality measurements have historically been based on free school meals data.

Further perverse and punitive aspects of the government’s welfare reform are coming to light all the time, such as disabled people living in care homes under NHS continuous health care funding who lose the mobility element of PIP and can therefore face the loss of their Motability vehicle and hence their independence.

Universal Credit as currently constituted is not fit for purpose and requires fundamental reform. There are significant deficiencies in the legacy benefits that are being replaced by Universal Credit. First, benefit rates have been falling in real terms as a result of linking benefit uprating to CPI instead of RPI and freezes to benefit rates, secondly there is no link between the payment of housing benefit and the quality of the housing provided, whether rent levels are excessive, the tenancy conditions and whether and there is a good service provided by the landlord – all of which potentially represent poor value for public expenditure and overcharging by the landlord, and thirdly tax credits need to be accompanied by a requirement that employers pay the Living Wage to avoid corporate profits receiving a hidden state subsidy.

Conference therefore calls on the National Executive Council working with Labour Link where appropriate to:

a) Seek to influence public opinion, in particular through highlighting the importance of in-work benefits to disabled workers and the need for out of work benefits that do not push claimants into poverty and homelessness, undermining their ability to seek employment or live independently;

b) Work with Labour MP’s MSPs, AMs and Councillors to push for reform of this benefit and seek opportunities to put pressure on government and other opposition MPs MSPs, AMs and Councillors to back our campaign;

c) Lobby and campaign to restore the UC payments to equate to existing benefit and Tax Credit rates, including all premiums payable for disability and allow 2-weekly payments.

d) Campaign for a pause in the implementation of Universal Credit to allow for fundamental changes to Universal Credit including those set out in i) to xii) below, and the reversal of the cuts to the work allowance, restoring UC payments to existing benefit and tax credit rates, including all premiums payable for disability, abolishing the two child limit and an integrated approach, involving local and central government, to the delivery of a properly funded social security system:

i) A welfare state that ensures everybody has decent standard of living free from poverty and the restoration of the link between basic benefit rates and the level set for retirement pension as a minimum basic income;

ii) An end to the disproportionate sanctions regime common to many benefits;

iii) An end to in work sanctions;

iv) A welfare system based on need and not on moral judgements;

v) An end to the current work capability assessments;

vi) An end to the outsourcing of contracts in the social security system to the private sector;

vii) Adequate staffing levels;

viii) A living wage to be set at level at which all can live based on a nationally recognised Minimum Income Standard;

ix) The introduction of legally enforceable rent controls;

x) An end to all benefit caps;

xi) An end to DWPs target based culture;

xii) Full implementation of the TUC’s Welfare Charter.

e) To coordinate this campaign with other organisations who oppose the Government’s “welfare reforms”.