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2019 National Delegate Conference
18 February 2019
Carried as Amended

The damning report of the United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur found that in the UK “14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials. The widely respected Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts a 7% rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, and various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40%. For almost one in every two children to be poor in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.”

On Universal Credit the Rapporteur said that social support should be a route out of poverty, and a universal credit should be a key part of that process. Consolidating six different benefits into one makes good sense, in principle. But many aspects of the design and rollout of the programme have suggested that the Department for Work and Pensions and The Treasury are more concerned with making economic savings and sending messages about lifestyles than responding to the multiple needs of those living with a disability, job loss, housing insecurity, food poverty, illness, and the demands of parenting.

This is highlighted by the Government’s failure to honour the commitment that it made in the 2010 white paper that no-one would lose as a result of the introduction of Universal Credit.

Conference notes:

1)The £1,000 per annum increase in Universal Credit work allowance for families with children and disabled people;

2)The delay to the roll out of ‘managed migration’ – the moving of existing claimants of legacy benefits to Universal Credit;

3)The decision not to retrospectively apply the two child limit to Universal Credit claims made after 31 January 2019;

4)The decision not to ‘naturally migrate’ people in receipt of Severe Disability Premium and that they should only transfer to Universal Credit through the managed migration process to guarantee that they receive transitional protection, and the decision to mitigate the financial loss of those that have already been ‘naturally migrated’;

5)The High Court judgement (11 January 2019) that the Department of Work and Pension’s interpretation of regulation 54 (calculation of earned income) used in the calculation of Universal Credit entitlement is flawed (this refers to the issue UNISON describes as the ‘pay date effect’);

6)The proposed two week roll on of Employment Support Allowance (ESA),Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) and Income Support (IS);

7)The invitation to UNISON to participate in the stakeholder group to inform the design of the managed migration process due to our experience of state benefits;

8)That in January 2019 1.4m people were in receipt of Universal Credit and that that figure is expected to rise by a further 1.6m during 2019;

9)The research by the Resolution Foundation showing that 2.4 million families on legacy benefits will be better off on Universal Credit while 3.2 million will be worse off.

Conference objects to these punitive measures and notes both the concessions made so far and also the role that UNISON has played alongside the Work and Pensions Select Committee, the Labour, Liberal Democrat, Plaid Cymru, Green and Scottish National Parties and some Conservative MPs, the TUC, voluntary sector organisations such as Child Poverty Action Group, think tanks such as the Resolution Foundation, religious organisations and civil society at large in working to secure these changes.

Composite D, passed at NDC 2018, clearly set out the impact of planned changes to Universal Credit on UNISON members and disabled members in particular.

Conference believes that despite these changes Universal Credit created, by its design, a ‘hostile environment’ for people on low incomes; that Universal Credit remains fundamentally flawed; that as a ‘brand’ Universal Credit is now seen as toxic and has lost public confidence; and radical change is now required for the whole benefits system.

Conference therefore calls on the National Executive Council working with Labour Link where appropriate, with MPs, MSPs, AMs and Councillors, with the TUC and other trade unions, with the voluntary sector, religious organisations and civil society organisations to continue to influence public opinion so that the implementation of Universal Credit is stopped. Fundamental changes for a modern social security system must include sufficient funding to support the multiple needs of those living with a disability, job loss, housing insecurity, illness, and the demands of parenting, be fair, provide a quality service that is quick to respond, easily accessible, delivered through an integrated national and local framework, and leaves people with dignity. The system itself must be administered in line with the public service ethos, based on compassion and inclusion, which is best provided in the public sector by a well resourced and adequately staff service.

The changes should retain the positive aspects – one claim, the extra support received by some groups of claimants, disregarding 100% of pension contributions, the use of digital technology (but with expanded choice in the ways to make a claim to prevent digital exclusion) and result in the launch of a modern social security system with a new title and vision.

Conference therefore calls on the National Executive Council to campaign for the implementation of Universal Credit to be stopped and for fundamental changes to be made, including:

a)Ending the five week wait for the first payment, making the first payment within 7 days of the claim so claimants have no need to take an advance and get into debt;

b)The extension of protection to those that ‘naturally migrate’ to Universal Credit to honour the commitment made in the 2010 White Paper;

c)The introduction of choice for claimants in relation to:

i)Payment of the housing element to landlords;

ii)Payment frequency (weekly, fortnightly or monthly);

iii)Split payments;

d)Measures that ensure the financial independence of women;

e)The removal of sanctions for failing to attend a jobcentre appointment or telephone call and specifically to remove sanctions for refusing to accept a zero hours contract or for leaving a zero hours contract;

f)Ensuring that UC payments equate to at least existing legacy benefit and tax credit rates, including all premiums payable for disability and restoring work allowances to at least the original position and increasing Universal Credit allowances so that they return to their real original value (in line with the Retail Price Index);

g)Repealing the two child limit;

h)Limiting the total amount that can be deducted for repayments of advances, overpayments of legacy benefits or third party debts to no more than 10% of the standard allowance element of the Universal Credit claim;

i)Varying the date on which the assessment period begins to avoid the pay date effect and fluctuating Universal Credit that prevent households from planning household finances;

j)Removing the benefit cap on the total benefits per household;

k)Removing the freeze on benefit increases.