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THE appalling effects of the universal credit (UC) benefit system were laid before the annual conference of the northern region of the TUC today.
Poverty, rent arrears, growing dependence on foodbanks, sanctions against workers who receive benefits and an increasing cost to local authorities were listed as some of the effects of the system in England’s north-east.
Lisa Collins of shop workers’ union Usdaw won unanimous backing with a call for a regionwide union campaign to halt the introduction of UC in the north as the Tories’ benefit reform scheme is being extended across Britain by the Department for Work & Pensions.
By the end of 2020, she said, spending on social security will have been cut by £27 billion.
“Universal credit places arbitrary and punishing sanctions on claimants,” she added. “Average working families will be £2,000 a year worse off under universal credit. Single-parent families will be £2,300 a year worse off.
“It is making vulnerable families pay. It is making disabled people pay.”
The system limits families’ qualification to benefits to the inclusion of only two children.
“It blames and punishes children for having brothers and sisters,” she added.
The conference was told that 38,000 children in the north-east face losing their entitlement to free school meals due to new UC means-testing.
Newcastle City Council is losing £1.2 million in unpaid rent because of reduced housing benefit payments under UC and has stepped in with £400,000 of its own funds to support the most desperate claimants.
Referral to foodbanks has increased by 16.9 per cent in areas where UC has been introduced, according to the Trussell Trust, which runs the majority of these facilities, conference was told.
“Universal credit is intended to protect the interests of the elite at the expense of working people,” said Ms Collins.
“This government has no intention of protecting working people’s rights to social security. It will plunge hundreds of thousands of households into poverty by 2021.”
The call for a united union campaign to bring introduction of the system to a standstill was backed by the Public & Commercial Services union (PCS), whose members are not only involved in the system’s administration but who also fall victim to it.
Delegates at the CWU conference in Bournemouth today unanimously passed a motion condemning the Tories’ “cruel” universal credit policy.
Brian Kenny from the CWU’s Mersey branch said that if someone was looking for an example of the government’s “cruel, heartless and uncaring attitude, you have only got look at what they have done on universal credit.”
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