Sam Morden, South Tyne and Wearside socialist party
Universal Credit (UC) reforms, announced in Autumn 2023, are another attack on working-class people. Those receiving UC while working and earning less than the Administrative Earnings Threshold of £812 a month (roughly 18 hours a week at minimum wage) are now required to take part in an Intensive Work Search as if they were unemployed.
This means that they will be forced to find more hours to work, or a better-paid job, alongside meeting regularly (often weekly) with a Jobcentre work coach. They can also be mandated to spend up to 35 hours a week looking for work, or attend compulsory support and training courses. Claimants are being forced to accept any employment, no matter how exploitative or unscrupulous. Failure to meet these demands will result in sanctions of up to £10.40 per day for 11-12 weeks.
Meetings with job coaches often fall during existing work hours, meaning that an affected worker must choose to either attend work and face benefits sanctions, or meet their work coach and face losing their current employment! Four in ten of the 6 million people on UC are in work. The victims of this policy will be women, the disabled, the ill, carers, young families; the list goes on.
Attacks on UC strengthen employers’ hands. It helps attempts to force substandard wages on workers. Many workers, not seeing an opportunity to fight collectively, will feel they have no choice but to put up with low wages, knowing the alternative of UC would be even worse.
The effects of over a decade of Tory cuts and austerity – the assaults on civil servants’ pay and conditions mean that retention and recruitment of Jobcentre staff is far below the thousands of workers that will be required to carry out these changes and enforce them. PCS, the civil servants’ union, members have reported that they have even had to sanction their own co-workers who are on UC, because their wages are so low!
Unite the Union, in it’s Unite Against Sanctions campaign, is correct that this is fundamentally a class and trade union matter and have attempted to forge links with PCS members. But it is limited, not calling for a clear political alternative. We can’t trust Starmer’s Labour to reverse Tory attacks on the welfare system when in power. Labour politicians have criticised the government’s welfare policy from the right, claiming that it doesn’t go far enough in some cases!
Unite should be working with other unions and left groups to form a new mass party of working class, capable of fighting for a minimum wage of £15 an hour regardless of age, and for the complete overhaul of the welfare system and the removal of sanctions and conditionality once and for all.