People could lose money if they claim UC under the new proposals, reports Jim Scott
It is becoming increasingly clear that the Tories are trying to avoid guaranteeing workers with full or partly subsidised wages, which could secure their employment status during the Coronavirus outbreak crisis.
On Tuesday 17 March Chancellor Rishi Sunak was pressed several times on this issue, yet each time he was questioned he chose to refer back to last week's budget statement, citing that the Government has committed increased funds to the welfare budget so that they can deliver more accessible and more generous benefits. Basically he's just saying; "Go claim Contributory Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and/or Universal Credit (UC) and the Government will look after you", but this just isn't true.
The BBC stated that the five-week wait had been scrapped, explaining that "Immediate loans were available", however, this is misleading. This is not a change of DWP policy as the assessment period has not been scrapped, these instant loans have always been available to some but in reality this means new claimants are plunged directly into debt five weeks prior to their first UC payment. Loans are then clawed back from future UC payments, potentially putting claimants under even more financial pressure.
Importantly, under current policy, all new UC claimants are automatically stripped of their existing benefits. So it's all well and good for Rishi Sunak to tell us that the Government “will do whatever it takes" but the reality is that even with the inreased payments announced on Friday, it falls way short of the mark. An example of this is that a family with more than two children who currently claim Working or Child Tax Credits may lose more entitlements than they gain over time if they open a new claim for UC.
The so-called streamlining of benefits under Universal Credit also means that if a claimant is sanctioned or not paid for any reason, it is all different benefit streams that get affected. These are fundamental problems with Universal Credit, and its why anti-austerity campaigners have called for it to be scrapped since it was introduced.
These problems are now exacerbated by the Coronavirus outbreak which will see more people applying and we must now demand that UC is drastically expanded and improved immediately to provide the reliable support that people need.
Last week, The People's Assembly released this list of demands.Demand 4 states: " Extend statutory sick pay to all workers. Following successful pressure on the government to give sick pay from day one for those affected by the virus. Statutory sick pay should be uplifted to a living wage. "
Demand 6 states: "Scrap the assessment period for Universal Credit and make payments immediately. Sanctions for benefit claimants who don’t attend appointments should be scrapped. Universal Credit payments should be topped up to account for extra costs of preparing for virus and moving to shut down."
The Coronavirus emergency is an ever-shifting situation and we must keep applying pressure on the Government to implement all of these demands, however, in the interim, it is vital that people do not lose money as a result of starting a new claim for UC while under the impression that the Government is going to look after them. For this reason, we must demand that all new UC claimants automatically retain all legacy benefits which they are currently entitled to and that none of those benefits are stopped as a result of any new UC claims.
Conservative welfare policy has created a hostile environment for many welfare claimants over the last ten years of austerity. The British media has been actively complicit in demonising disabled people and the unemployed, even perpetuating the falsehood that benefit claimants are "well off".
As millions of workers find themselves out of work in the coming weeks and turning to the safety net of social security, it will become increasingly clear to many people that the current levels of financial support available to people who are sick or unemployed through no fault of their own is pitifully lacking and well below the amounts of money that people really need to live on.
So lacking that we have seen huge increases in child poverty, malnutrition, financial stress and hardship and in thousands of cases this has led to people's suicide due to the increased mental health pressures these factors bring.
We must keep up the pressure on the Government to implement all of our demands, we know that the Tories will talk the talk but are not ideologically motivated to walk the walk, and will not do so unless they are forced.
Jim Scott is an eco-socialist activist, writer and campaigner. He is the co-founder of Stick It To The Tories and has played an integral role in creating and building the anti-austerity and anti-war movements in West Wales. Specialising in rural and creative activism Jim is an active People’s Assembly campaigner.
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