Amber Rudd should stop the rollout of Universal Credit and end the hostile environment for low income households
Amber Rudd has admitted to Parliament that the rise in food bank use is linked to the rollout of Universal Credit (UC). Her admission reflects growing awareness of some of the flaws in the design of UC.
- It is paid monthly and in arrears – which leads to new claimants being without income for five weeks.
- Payments are made to households rather than individuals – leaving women victims of domestic violence with no independent income.
- The system is hard for people without internet skills or access to navigate.
At best, these design flaws show an ignorance of the realities of the lives of vulnerable people in our society, and a lack of compassion and interest in the human cost of policy decisions.
At worst, they reflect a deliberate attempt to create a ‘hostile environment’, and to punish people for their poverty.
But it is not just the technical design of UC that is wrong.
It was not that long ago, the Summer of 2015, when the then Chancellor George Osborne put forward his emergency budget. The newly-elected Conservative majority government announced plans to increase the statutory minimum wage through the introduction of the so-called ‘national living wage’. But the other side of the coin was the announcement of swingeing cuts to in-work tax credits as part of £12billion of welfare cuts. The Government was set on a course of withdrawing from its central role in supporting low-wage families.
The public backlash to the tax credit cuts was overwhelming, and it was given voice in Parliament by the newly-elected Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. By the Autumn, Osborne had second thoughts and did one of his u-turns. Tax credits would not be cut after all. But Osborne was slippery and he made no such change to the proposed cuts to Universal Credit.
The upshot of all this is that the roll-out of Universal Credit effectively involves the roll-out of Osborne’s hugely unpopular tax credit cut of 2015.
So when the Conservative Government claim that austerity is over, it is simply not true. They are currently overseeing the gradual implementation of one of Osborne’s most mean-spirited and reckless attacks on our social fabric.