Opening a debate on ending “social insecurity”, Angela Hamilton for the National Executive Council (NEC) said that she was “proud to see the donations for a local [Liverpool] food bank – but ashamed that such need occurs”.
The UK is the sixth richest country in the world, she pointed out, “yet one where the UN has said poverty is a political choice”.
On the last morning of national delegate conference, Ms Hamilton voiced her contempt of the Conservative politicians who “smile as they visit food banks ”– or cry – yet don’t understand or refuse to acknowledge how the massive rise in food bank use relates to the damage being done by their party’s policy of universal credit.
Universal credit does not stand alone, though, but is destructive in conjunction with other things – not least, zero-hours contracts and insecure work.
“People might not be queuing outside the shipyard for work, but they are sitting by their phone, waiting for it ring with a few hours work,” she noted.
Ms Hamilton listed a number of examples of the dire situations that people are being forced into by universal credit issues, including that of a nurse who had to sell her children’s toys to feed them.
“It’s time to put a stop to the devastation of universal credit and put in place something that is fit for purpose.,” she told delegates.
“Let’s get rid of this awful government … and make sure the most vulnerable in this society get the support that they deserve.”
And no consequences have been as dire as those for the people who have died as a direct result of benefits sanctions or errors – in many cases, ending their own lives in utter desperation.
Kathleen Kennedy for the national disabled members’ committee highlighted the particular problems that universal benefit causes for disabled people, including the punitive punishment system where, for instance, one could lose benefit because of a missed appointment – irrespective of the reason for missing that appointment.
Joan Weaver from Wolverhampton local government told conference that the government’s removal of pension benefits from mixed-age couple, where one is retired and the other not, and moving such couples onto universal credit was another cause of problems and decreased income.
James Anthony for the executive commented that, while universal credit was causing particular problems, it was important to remember that it was not the sole cause of problems … “this Tory government was cutting benefits anyway”.
Rebecca Smith of Newport, South Wales said that universal credit “puts down and keeps down” those who are struggling in our society.
She spoke of the trap it creates where, if you work a few more hours, your benefit gets cut. To escape such penalties and that trap, she said that personally, she would have to work 47 hours a week – which is impossible with two young children.
In backing the motion, conference instructed the NEC to campaign on a number of points, including:
- ending the five-week wait for a first payment;
- the extension of protection to those that ‘naturally migrate’ to universal credit, to honour the commitment made in the 2010 white paper;
- measure that ensure the financial independence of women;
- repealing the two-child limit;
- removing the freeze on benefit increases.