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.

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