Despite growing pressure from the establishment to stop the roll-out of its flagship welfare reform ‘Universal Credit’ to the whole country, the Works and Pensions Secretary David Gauke has today confirmed to the Tory conference that the roll-out will continue. “This is devastating news for those having to claim benefits,” Rugby Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition spokesperson Pete McLaren told us today. “Rugby has been one of six pilot areas for Universal Credit (UC) since 2013. We have been campaigning against it ever since, pointing out that its aim is to make it harder for people to claim the benefits they are entitled to, and thereby pushing more people into poverty. What we have seen happening to the poor and vulnerable in Rugby will now happen nationwide.
“Our evidence has been gained by talking to claimants outside Rugby Job Centre on at least a monthly basis over the last 4 years. We are not at all surprised that former Government advisor Dame Louise Casey urged the Prime Minister at the weekend to delay the role-out of Universal Credit to fix it: ‘Otherwise, some people will end up in dire circumstances, more dire than we have seen in Britain for years,’ she claimed. This friend of the Tories highlighted the likelihood of families being made homeless if Universal Credit continued to be pushed forward. A number of Tory MPs have also written asking the Government to halt the roll-out.
“ Official figures show that 24% of new Universal Credit claimants wait longer than 6 weeks to get their benefits, and many fall behind with their rent. If claimants are sanctioned for unavoidably missing an interview this also means rent arrears build. We met a single parent with a three year old child outside Rugby Job Centre who was being evicted for rent arrears to Rugby Borough Council: she thought her Universal Credit was paying her rent. A 50 year-old woman was sanctioned by actually having her rent stopped because she apparently failed to provide enough evidence of her 17 year-old daughter’s apprenticeship – even though she doesn’t receive any benefits for her daughter.
“A man who was living with a friend after separating from his partner was told he might be sanctioned if he did not find his own place to live. Claimants in Rugby are being asked to pay for sick notes demanded by the DWP, and we spoke to a woman with a tumor on her spine who was told by the DWP she had to continue working until she was in a wheel chair.
“In a partial admittance of the hardship caused by Universal Credit, the Tories have also announced today that claimants may be able to get a loan to help with the 6 week delay when first claiming UC. However, this comes off their first monthly payment and will not cover both rent and food. Claimants can supposedly already get financial help if they are awaiting benefits or have been sanctioned, but this simply does not happen in Rugby. The DWP do not inform claimants there is a Nil Income Form which can re-instate housing benefit and Council Tax, and give access to food vouchers, emergency cash payments and Utility Meter Credit. Rugby Council Housing Benefits Office does not even stock these forms four years into Universal Credit locally! These problems, and the poverty they cause, will be replicated everywhere given today’s announcement. Our campaign will need to move up a gear,” Pete McLaren concluded.
Rugby TUSC can be contacted at: www.rugbytusc.com; on 07881 520626; RugbyTUSC@gmail.com; or PO Box 4123, Rugby CV21 9BJ
Pete McLaren is a member of the TUSC National Steering Committee, and is its Local Group Development Officer. He was the Rugby TUSC Candidate in the 2015 General Election
Pete McLaren has been re-elected to the Left Unity National Council, and is therefore in a relatively unique position to comment on developments within the left generally
 Dame Louise Casey was, until July, a British government official working in social welfare. She has vast experience in housing, having led the Rough Sleepers Unit and the homelessness Directorate