Stop and Scrap Universal Credit
Universal Credit goes “full service” in Edinburgh on 28th November. The government’s flagship benefit reform is bringing rising homelessness and soaring foodbank use in its wake. But in the capital, Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, Sisters Uncut, Oficina Precaria and other grass-roots groups are ready to resist…
STOP & SCRAP UNIVERSAL CREDIT
Demonstrate Leith Jobcentre, 199 Commercial Street, Edinburgh
12 noon – 1.30 pm Wednesday 28th November
Universal Credit goes full service in Edinburgh from 28 November 2018. This means all new claims for the six benefits that Universal Credit is replacing will now have to be claims for Universal Credit (UC).
Universal Credit is an attack on claimants and on the working class as a whole. It must be resisted and made unworkable. We say Stop and Scrap Universal Credit. The demo on 28 November is just one step in the resistance.
WHAT IS UNIVERSAL CREDIT?
Universal Credit replaces child tax credit, housing benefit, income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance and employment and support allowance, and working tax credit. It does not affect other benefits like Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Pension Credit or the State Pension. If fully implemented its estimated 7 million households will be on Universal Credit.
Universal Credit is even worse than the existing benefits system. It has very harsh rules about proving you are actively seeking work, and for the first time even workers in low-paid part-time jobs can be sanctioned if the DWP decide you are not doing enough to look for full time work. You have to wait 5 – 8 weeks or longer for the first payment, fuelling rent arrears and homelessness.
For this reason, for most people its better not to get transferred onto Universal Credit, if you can avoid it. If you are already claiming one of the six benefits listed above you should not be transferred to UC till next year or later. Only a significant change of circumstances should mean you have to make a new claim for UC. You should not have to reclaim and change benefits for simply moving address, as demonstrated in this legal case. The jobcentre may try and persuade you to change over, but often you can say no. Seek support to do this.
UNIVERSAL CREDIT – AN ATTACK ON THE DISABLED
Severe disability premium and enhanced disability premium are abolished which mean single disabled people lose around £2,000 and a disabled couple over £4,000 per year.
Claims being conducted mainly online discriminates against many disabled people.
- While you wait for the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) your GP sick line (fit note) no longer automatically exempts you from job seeking and work related activity and you could be subject to ‘all work-related requirements’. If this happens, submit a GP ‘fit note’ and seek support to insist that you are exempted via Universal Credit Regulation 99(4) and (5)(c).
- If you fail the WCA then the default is to impose full job seeking requirements while you appeal – but submit a sick line (fit note) and seek support as above.
Mandatory “Health and Work Conversations” threaten many disabled UC claimants with sanctions. Always be accompanied to such interviews and check if its mandatory for you – if you have “limited capability for work-related activity” its voluntary.
UNIVERSAL CREDIT – AN ATTACK ON WOMEN
UC is an attack on women. One UC payment to the household will mean women are more dependent on men, impacting survivors of domestic violence. The Scottish Government has pledged to introduce the right to split payments but this requires an agreement with the DWP and has not happened yet.
Women will only be able to claim Universal Credit for a 3rd child if they can proved they were raped and will be required to explain the details of their rape to the DWP through a third party who will essentially be judging whether rape took place or not. This involves filling out a detailed 45 page form about being raped. (Until 31 Jan. 2019, families with 3 or more children claim on the old Tax Credit system.)
Most lone parents, the majority women, will be worse off.
UNIVERSAL CREDIT – AN ATTACK ON WORKERS
For the first time workers in low paid part-time work can be sanctioned if the DWP decide they are not doing enough to seek full-time employment, hitting hardest those with care responsibilities or those with disabilities. And such sanctions could cut claimants housing costs, threatening homelessness (if sanctioned seek support to contest the sanction).
Self employed people will have to submit their monthly, instead of annual, income before any UC payment, including for housing costs, will be made for that month causing untold chaos and hardship. Claimants who have been self-employed for more than a year are deemed to be earning the equivalent of the minimum wage for all the hours they are expected to have worked each month, thus cutting their UC entitlement.
If part-time workers or self-employed workers earn too much in any monthly “assessment period” their claim will be closed and they’ll have to start all over again. This could happen if wages or payments were just a bit earlier or later than usual.
UNIVERSAL CREDIT – AN ATTACK ON MIGRANT WORKERS
- UC reduces the rights of migrant workers. The right to reside as an EEA jobseeker no longer gives access to benefits, whereas before UC such migrants were entitled to 3 months of Jobseeker’s Allowance (info from CPAG). But migrant workers refused benefits should always seek advice and support as the DWP often break their own rules to refuse migrants benefits, and ECAP has won several such cases.
UNIVERSAL CREDIT – MAJORITY WORSE OFF
Research shows the majority of claimants worse off under UC, assuming take-up remains the same. This is still the case despite concessions made in the recent budget. For UC households in employment the Resolution Foundation conclude: “that the overall number of losers (3 million) will still outweight the overall number of gainers (2.4 million)” see page 9. For households not in employment it’s estimated 1.1 million lose and only 0.4 million gain (not affected by budget changes). Lone parents are particularly hard hit.
And these figures do not take into account the much higher sanction rate under UC.
The transitional protection promised by the government is very limited but if this applies to you make sure you get your rights.
UNIVERSAL CREDIT – PEOPLE LEFT PENNILESS
Payments are monthly in arrears and you have to wait 5 – 8 weeks or even longer for first payment (in Scotland you can choose to be paid fortnightly)
Hardship payments have to be repaid
The system is so complicated that 1 in 5 claims to UC fails because of difficulties people face with the application process
Overpayments could be recovered even when they are totally the fault of the DWP (if this happens seek support to challenge it)
UNIVERSAL CREDIT – MORE SANCTIONS
David Webster of Glasgow University has shown UC has a much higher rate of sanctions than the old benefits, plus they are longer – “In the latest quarter March to May 2018, almost a third (30.6%) of UC sanctions were over three months and one in eight were over 6 months, indicating the extreme severity of the regime.” (David Webster) This is due to the brutal regime of conditionality with the insistence on 35 hours per week jobsearch and no provision for holidays.
UNIVERSAL CREDIT – MORE POVERTY
Universal Credit already operates in East Lothian. The East Lothian Courier reports that while only 30% are in rent arrears for council housing in the area, the figure jumps to 72% for those on UC. The East Lothian Food Bank reports monthly parcels up by 25%. These figures are mirrored Britain-wide.
UNIVERSAL CREDIT – MORE HOMELESSNESS
The initial long delay in paying UC means 80% of claimants go immediately into rent arrears, and find it very difficult or impossible to catch up. Along with soaring rent arrears and sanctions on housing costs, mortgage interests payments are no longer met, the only option being to take out a second loan. An Observer investigation finds homeless charities stating that Universal Credit is a major cause of increasing homelessness. Many landlords will not now let to benefits claimants (Observer 28.10.18).
UNIVERSAL CREDIT – BENEFITS CLOSED DOWN
The current plans for moving existing claimants to Universal Credit – due to take place from 2019 to 2023 – are horrendous. Rather than the DWP transferring the claims onto the UC system, the plan is to tell people to claim Universal Credit and then stop their old benefit whether or not their new Universal Credit claim has activated. Tens of thousands will be left penniless – unless our actions can get UC scrapped.
UNIVERSAL CREDIT – WORKFARE
Universal Credit threatens 18-21 year olds with workfare. The Youth Obligation is a three month work placement enforced via sanctions in a public sector organisation or a registered charity. After 6 months on UC, 18 – 21 year olds will have to apply for an apprenticeship or traineeship, gain work-based skills, or go on a work placement.
Workfare under Universal Credit also operates in a decentralised way, enforced by work coaches under the guise of ”work experience” as per Section 16(3)(e) of the 2012 Welfare Reform Act. This report by the DWP confirms workfare sanctions are being issued under Universal Credit.
In England and Wales the Work and Health Programme threatens workfare on people unemployed for 2 years.
ECAP pledges to take direct action against any employer or organisation who gets involved in any workfare scheme – as we have done successfully in the recent past. If you exploit us we will shut you down!
UNIVERSAL CREDIT – ATTACK ON RIGHTS
Universal Credit takes away rights to challenge your Claimants Commitment that existed under Jobseekers Allowance. The jobcentre will make you sign a Claimant Commitment listing what you must do. This is supposed to be ‘reasonable’, but without signing you won’t get paid. (If you are unhappy with what you are being made to agree to do, and make a formal request for a second opinion that doesn’t go in your favour, your claim will be stopped and you have to start again.) See SUWN guide to UC.
UNIVERSAL CREDIT – UNIVERSAL CHAOS
UC is a mess with IT failures, unclear rules, under staffing, and under training. It has been repeatedly delayed, and now is not planned to be fully implemented till March 2023, with just 10,000 people to be “migrated” across to UC in 2019.
Universal Credit attacks the whole working class by undermining wages and conditions. It is an integral part of the imposition of austerity and the cuts. Its class war against the poor. It is not a “claimants issue”, everyone needs to get involved in resistance.
To combat the online isolation Universal Credit is trying to impose we need to support each other – you can be accompanied at all benefits appointments. We need to organise to make oppressive measures like Universal Credit unworkable.
ECAP aims to build up a presence at the Edinburgh jobcentres through our regular advocacy stalls, with more people involved and more frequent stalls this can create a counter-power, accompanying people and doing solidarity call-outs to back up sanctioned and mistreated claimants by groups invading the jobcentre. We aim to spread knowledge of UC and how claimants canstand up for their rights.
Precarious and part-time workers will be hit by Universal Credit and this group of workers have recently shown their ability to organise, for example couriers going on strike. Hopefully this experience will inform resistance to Universal Credit.
Vital to resistance is linking up and co-ordinating as widely as possible, and ECAP aims to do this Scotland-wide via the Action Against Austerity network and Britain-wide with groups like Disabled People Against Cuts, Boycott Workfare and the Welfare Action network.
The simultaneous attack on wide sectors of the working class raises the possibility of widespread resistance. Some politicians have raised the possibility of Universal Credit sparking a revolt similar to the successful anti poll tax non-payment movement.
As we say in our statement of principles “we believe that with enough people direct action can make the rule of bosses and their political protectors unworkable. We aim to establish a truly democratic counter-power, pressurizing authorities in the here and now and giving people a means to defend themselves in their daily lives, whilst simultaneously challenging the whole capitalist system, demanding and working towards a world without classes, borders and oppressive elites.”