Universal Credit – Tories are now forced into (partial) retreat in face of massive national outrage.

The Seacombe Motion condemning Universal Credit was not debated. It was, nevertheless, moved formally by Cllr Chris Jones, and seconded formally by Cllr Paul Stuart without debate. It was voted on and carried – despite the LibDems’ attempt to water it down by amendment and Tory opposition.

Cllr Chris Jones was not called to speak to our motion. In this note she covers just a few of the points whe would have made had the motion been debated.

Cllr Chris Jones comments: At Monday’s Wirral Council meeting our motion on Universal Credit was one of many motions for debate but was not called before the 9:15 “guillotine” fell. Our decision to bring it to Council has been vindicated by a huge national outcry that’s now forced Mrs May’s increasingly embarrassed government into (at least partial) retreat. Although our UC motion couldn’t be debated at Council (because seven other motions were listed ahead of it) it was nevertheless carried, without our even speaking to it, with a strong majority.
Had I been able to speak to it I would have drawn attention to the anguish already apparent in our Ward among many residents who fear the bleakest Christmas in living memory if they become caught up in the cruel delays in the Tory plan. Almost half of over 65s only have the old age pension – so without benefits they would sink. In the UK economy today more than 15million people are still not paying into a pension scheme – so the problem during retirement can only get worse. Yet the government brags that it’s created more jobs – what sort of jobs? Many of these “jobs” pay so little that they’ll just perpetuate poverty into old age – increasing financial dependency long into the future for our children and grand children. And at the same time the present generation face not only an employment crisis of few jobs and low wages – but astronomical housing costs and increasing price inflation of basic essentials such as food!

These are just some of the points Cllr Paul Stuart would have raised had the motion been debated.

Cllr Paul Stuart seconded the motion, formally – and we publish below some of the main points in the speech he had prepared.
The DWP expect that by 2022 over 7 million UK households will receive Universal Credit: 54% of claimants will be in working households; 52% of claimants will have children in the household; 58% of households claiming universal credit will have an adult who is disabled or has a long-term health condition.
Currently: 39% of those claiming universal credit are waiting more than 6 weeks to receive their 1st payment; 11% are waiting over 10 weeks without payment; 57% are having to borrow money while waiting for their 1st payment. In the last year Citizens Advice supported more than 30,000 people with Universal Credit issues, with 25% of those also needing help with debt issues.
But these are not just statistics & numbers!
Lost in these statistics are people, human beings, someone’s mother, father, son, daughter – the sick & disabled – the most vulnerable in our society, real people struggling to get by. These People are having problems with a complicated application process ranging from difficulties using a computer or with the online system, to issues getting hold of the right evidence to support their claim, long payment delays and difficulties getting help with their application mean they are less able to focus on getting into work or increasing their hours. And despite their efforts to do what is expected of them, people are not able to get the help they need often having to make more than 10 calls to the Universal Credit helpline during their application process, with an average time spent on hold around 30 to 40 minutes. The cost of these calls can be a staggering £13.50 to £22 per before actually speaking to anyone! (Thanks to pressure like ours all over the country it looks like this cost will at last be ameliorated.)

These issues are making a mockery of the professed goals of Universal Credit, which was to simplify the benefits system, offering people the security and support they need to move into and progress in work – making work pay! (Or was the real goal to drive down costs?) People claiming Universal Credit face uncertainty about how much money they will receive and when it will arrive, with many waiting 8 – 10 weeks, some as long as 12 – 14 weeks. This filters through to every other area of life, making it harder to focus on finding work while they worry about how to pay bills or put food on the table.
From next month, the accelerated rollout means this will be happening here in Wirral. meaning many Wirral families will be forced to go without money during the winter months and “yes” – over Christmas! Universal Credit is already failing too many people across the country, pushing them into debt and leaving them without the means to make ends meet.

The government needs not merely to pause plans to accelerate the “roll out” 0f Universal Credit, but to abandon the scheme in its entirety and devote the time and resources needed to tackle the key problems. Pushing ahead with this accelerated roll out, while the system is buckling under the strain of its many flaws, will put hundreds of Wirral families at financial risk – and that’s why our motion doesn’t accept that tinkering at the edges of a cruel and flawed scheme is enough – our motion calls for it to be abandoned and I call on council to vote for our motion without amendment.

LibDems failed attempt to “amend” Seacombe Labour Councillors’ motion calling for Tory “Universal Credit” to be condemned and scrapped.

Our previous web-post (October 5th 2017) set out our case against Universal Credit. How sad – but unsurprising – that there was a (failed) attempt this evening to amend our condemnation of that cruel attack on the poorest and most vulnerable.

The Tories’ “Universal Credit” scheme was condemned by Council on a motion moved by Cllr Chris Jones (centre) and Paul Stuart (right).

UNIVERSAL CREDIT – Proposed by Councillor Chris Jones Seconded by Councillor Paul Stuart

Par.1 “Council condemns the government’s misnamed “Universal Credit” scheme as an extension of past Tory/LibDem and current Tory policies crafted to shift to the poorest and most vulnerable in our society the burden of the bank-driven world debt crisis of 2008”.

A LibDem (attempted) amendment sought to delete this crucial, scene setting, first paragraph. Why?

Could it be because they saw that Seacombe Labour Councillors condemned a policy they, LibDems, cannot (with consistency) condemn?

Would it have reminded them, and the voting public of their Parliamentary Party’s collaboration in the Tory/LibDem government that shifted the cost of the bank-driven world deb- crash of 2008 onto the shoulders of the poorest, neediest, and most vulnerable people of our society – and notably so here in Wirral?

In a further amendment, they seemed to illustrate that they perhaps hadn’t quite understood the paragraph they sought to amend. Here they proposed “… a pause to the roll out …” of policies that Seacombe Labour called on the government not to pause, but to abandon.

Their amendment was so formulated that it appeared to transmogrify Seacombe Labour’s motion such that it would ask the government to both “pause the roll-out” of UC and also abandon it – at the same time!

Oh dear, if UC were to be paused it could not simultaneously be abandoned, and if abandoned it would not be paused! What a pity there was no debate – they might have been asked to explain the apparent contradiction. However, at 9:15 the “guillotine” fell, to close debate and perhaps save some difficult explanation and blushes.

Regrettably, Cllrs Chris Jones & Paul Stuart (our mover and seconder) then had no opportunity to enlarge on the enormous potential hardship, for countless numbers of local individuals and families, that the government’s misnamed “Universal Credit” would have – notably to be hit first in the Christmas period!

Although not debated, as time had run out, the motion was nevertheless voted on and carried overwhelmingly. Chris and Paul insisted on a “Card vote” – meaning that each individual councillor’s personal vote would be recorded. Needless to say, one or two Tories made half-hearted attempts to justify what we regard to be a punishingly cruel attack on the most vulnerable people in our Wirral communities. They parroted the worn out mantras of their national propaganda – as though they were persuaded by it. How could anybody be?

Universal Credit – what do these Tory Government changes mean for residents of Egremont, Poulton, Seacombe & Somerville – the old villages comprising the electoral ward of Seacombe?

5th October, 2017

Casework has never been so heavy for Labour Councillors. A great part of it is driven by low incomes and housing problems.

Cllrs Chris Jones and Paul Stuart will take a motion to Council condemning the government’s UC plans because they are crafted to transfer, onto to the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, the burden of the bank-driven world debt crisis of 2008. Since publishing the post below, on 22nd September, it has become clear that our worst fears for the effects of misnamed “Universal Credit” are going to be realised unless the government can come up with a virtual miracle of revision.

UNIVERSAL CREDIT

Council condemns the government’s misnamed “Universal Credit” scheme as an extension of past Tory/LibDem and current Tory policies crafted to shift to the poorest and most vulnerable in our society the burden of the bank-driven world debt crisis of 2008.

Further, Council calls on the government to listen to the people, listen to members of the Parliamentary Conservative Party who see their votes slipping away, and abandon its Universal Credit proposals.

Universal credit will, for people in or out of work, conflate or replace most of the discrete benefits to which they are now entitled. The LGA shows an expectation of average weekly income cuts of £11.18 from the change to UC but with potentially devastating immediate income gaps of several weeks for the very neediest. These benefits can include those for housing, child care, disability, limited capability for work, caring, etc.

Council notes that following a recent DWP presentation, explaining how the shift from the previous arrangements will be put into effect, Councillors who attended became aware that the government’s arrangements are too incompetently orchestrated to avoid severe financial distress amongst Wirral’s most vulnerable and neediest individuals, families and children.

As the change to UC is intended to begin its Wirral “roll out” during November there are well founded fears that it will precipitate a desperately hungry Christmas-time for many already low-income Wirral residents, negating the very spirit of the Christmas message and forcing more people to rely on foodbanks.

Whilst declaring profound opposition to the seemingly vindictive and cruel speed of the change to UC, Council also observes that the measure is consistent with seamless continuation, by the present Tory government, of the preceding ConDem collaboration government’s neoliberal austerity measures.

Finally, Council notes that the Leader of the Conservative Group has already shown his willingness to make a stand against his own government when he believes they are wrong by voting against the hated Bedroom Tax. Council calls on Councillor Lewis to show similar resolve and oppose Universal Credit.

Proposed by: Councillor Chris Jones
Seconded by: Councillor Paul Stuart

The post below was published on September 22nd 2017

This note does not begin with a rhetorical denunciation of the Tory Government’s core policy – which makes the most vulnerable pay for the bankers’ and hedge-fund gamblers’ world financial crash of 2007/8. Our position on that is already well known from earlier posts (and from www.seacombelabour.co.uk ).

Residents are coming to councillors, Adrian, Chris & Paul for advice

Our purpose, here, confines to explaining the dire, and still developing, position, as we understand it, for many residents of our Seacombe electoral ward in the weeks ahead.

For direct help in individual cases go to:
“AskUs Wirral” on 0300 330 0111
Or go to www.askuswirral.org.uk

What does “Universal Credit” mean? It is a single monthly payment for people in or out of work – replacing most of the separate benefits they might be getting now. These can include housing, children, child care costs, disability, limited capability for work, caring, etc and there will be qualifying criteria for all these categories.

Who will be affected? Anyone who claims any of the above benefits will be affected in some way. As the Government’s change to “Universal credit” begins to be “rolled out”, during November, there are fears that it could herald a difficult time over Christmas for many already low-income Wallasey residents. Following a (DWP) seminar, explaining how the shift from the previous arrangements will be put into effect, a number of Labour Councillors came away with deep concerns about whether the government’s arrangements are sufficiently robust to avoid real distress.

Not everything may yet, at the time of writing, be entirely clear. However, it appears that when applicants are “migrated over”, or new applications are made, for “Universal Credit” there is to be a 7-day suspension of the claims – known as “waiting days”. They then enter an “assessment phase” that will start on day 8 of the claim – and payments will be calculated from that date.

Starting on the 8th day following an application, we understand the assessment phase can last as long as a month. “Universal Credit” is then, it seems, to be assessed and paid in arrears, monthly, in a single payment. This is a matter for worry to potential claimants as, if fears are correct, there is concern that they may in some circumstances be waiting for 6-8 weeks, or even longer. The change here in Wirral will start next month amid very real fears that many residents, and families, will face serious financial difficulties.

However, even as the government argues that its “austerity” measures are needed to “help people back into work” research published in the “Guardian” reveals that 8.3 million people in the UK are now facing mounting debt crises as they struggle to borrow to pay off existing debts. Whilst the government’s ministers constantly try to argue that the economy is recovering, the Guardian quotes The Chief Financial Regulator’s warning that personal debts are rising at alarming rates as people borrow to feed their families as austerity continues to bite ever harder. .

“Austerity Britain” by by David Kynaston narrates in contemporary voices how the victorious 1945 Labour Government shaped the political, economic, and social landscape for three decades. And then came the governments of Macmillan and Thatcher – and the great “unwinding” began. Labour, with its present Socialist leadership is ready to rebuild all over again.

How very differently Labour Governments handled massive debt crises in far harder times than these! After Hitler’s war when the relative debt burden was far. far, greater than now, Labour also recognised austerity – but instead of draining the cost from the poorest people Labour re-built the UK’s manufacturing, agriculture and fisheries, revolutionised education, and introduced the National Health Service – in the teeth of bitter Tory opposition.

In that age of war-forced austerity the country was rebuilt for the people. In this age of banker-forced austerity the poorest and most vulnerable are fleeced to ensure tax benefits for the very rich and continuing riches for the very bankers and financiers whose gambling precipitated it.