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David Ellesmere: Opposition to Universal Credit growing stronger

The chorus of opposition to Universal Credit is getting louder and louder, writes Borough Council Leader David Ellesmere, but the ironic thing is that, when it was first announced, it probably did have almost universal support.

The original declared intentions of simplifying the complex system of benefits and tax credits and reducing the cliff-edge people face moving from unemployment into work were something that most people would agree with.

The scale of opposition to Universal Credit now is a measure of how far it has moved from these objectives.

 

Part of this is to do with how badly it has been implemented. Massive new IT systems rarely go according to plan and some people are facing delays of months from claiming Universal Credit to receiving their first payment.

Other problems are in the design of the system itself. Even if it was working as intended you would still face a delay of 6 weeks from making a claim to receiving your first payment. This is because Universal Credit is paid monthly in arrears, plus the Government assumes that you will have enough money from your previous employment to tide you through the first week of unemployment.

For people whose last job was low paid or a zero hours contract this is unlikely to be the case.

Still more problems are from changes that have been made made to the original scheme. Even before it was introduced, George Osborne made numerous cuts to Universal Credit which, when people finally move across to it, could leave some thousands of pounds worse off.

It’s no surprise that where Universal Credit is introduced it has led to huge increases in rent arrears and the use of food banks – the exact things a well-designed benefits system should be seeking to eliminate.

The Government know they can’t defend Universal Credit so they’ve given up trying. In last week’s debate in Parliament they ordered Tory MPs not to turn up for the vote.

This is the sign of a policy that is in deep trouble.

Unless Theresa May agrees to pause the roll-out so the problems can be fixed, it could well turn into her Poll Tax.

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