Benefits scheme will throw thousands into debt

Date: Tuesday 10th October 2017

Sir, Very large numbers of people in Cumbria and across the country will shortly be transferred by the Government to the long-planned social security benefit scheme known as Universal Credit.

This is despite unchallengeable evidence from pilot projects, not denied by the Government but ignored anyway, that the new scheme will throw tens of thousands into debt, for a number of reasons.

Built-in administrative delays in the process mean that people moving on to the benefit are deliberately intended by the scheme to be left for six weeks without any income at all, a loss which will never be reimbursed, although people skilled in coping with officialdom may apply for discretionary loans which have to be repaid later.

Even when the benefit is eventually received, administrative errors in calculating the correct amount are frequent, leaving people unsure what their income will be.

Even when the benefit is eventually paid, the correct amount will for some families turn out to be up to £50 a week less than they received under the previous scheme.

Under the new scheme, instead of having their rent paid directly to landlords by housing benefit, recipients, however they may already struggle to manage money through the month for electricity and food bills, will now usually have to save also for rent. Managing rent was a great source of anxiety for our poorer parents and grandparents, and is worse today when rents take an even higher proportion of family income. The unkindly and unnecessary removal of direct payment simply loads more stress on to people who already struggle, without reducing the benefit bill by a penny. In pilot areas where the benefit has been trialled, rent arrears have mushroomed, and more evictions and homelessness will inevitably follow.

The Government has just rejected serious appeals from leading and respected parliamentarians, and from many independent organisations, to delay the nationwide roll-out of universal benefit until some of these problems can be solved. Its attitude can be judged from the bald statement from the Department of Work and Pensions, that the majority of claimants are “comfortably managing their money” — which means, to put it crudely, that the large minority who are clearly not coping, can, if I may put it crudely, go to hell and who cares?

Does all this remind anyone of the tens of thousands of elderly people being denied the level of social care which used to be available, and the similar numbers of the seriously mentally ill suffering a brutally violent regime for years in our prisons, for lack of any other help?

Little serious concern is expressed about these and other similar things by our major political parties, whose main priorities lie elsewhere, one with further tax cuts, the other, can you believe, with nationalisation. Today’s news from the Conservative Party conference says that “major rethinking” is beginning to happen, and not before time: we live in hope.

Yours etc,