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From The Socialist newspaper, 25 October 2017

Universal Credit chaos: Tories punish the poor

Jobcentre Plus, photo Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons)

Jobcentre Plus, photo Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons)   (Click to enlarge)

Karen Seymour, Mansfield Socialist Party

Theresa May and her weak, in-fighting Tory cabinet seem hell-bent on rolling out the hated 'Universal Credit' welfare system. But even many of their own MPs don't agree - another fracture in this divided minority government.

The push for rapid expansion is in spite of repeated warnings Universal Credit will be a disaster for those with no choice but to claim benefits.

Already, claimants regularly have to wait six weeks or longer to receive their money. This causes untold hardship to vulnerable people who are unlikely to have savings to fall back on.

Referrals to foodbanks, rent arrears and evictions soon follow. Two south London boroughs have found that Universal Credit actually created further debt for over half of their claimants. One foodbank said its referrals nearly doubled.

The Tories' insistence that Universal Credit is encouraging more people back into work is laughable. What sort of work? Often it's minimum-wage, zero-hour contracts, or other unreliable employment.

Even some Tory MPs have expressed concerns about the system, no doubt under pressure following the surge of electoral support for Jeremy Corbyn's anti-austerity programme. Even former Conservative prime minister John Major has hypocritically called Universal Credit "operationally messy, socially unfair and unforgiving."

Protesting against the Tories, photo Paul Mattsson

Protesting against the Tories, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

In two potentially massive climbdowns, the government recently announced the scrapping of the scandalous 55p-a-minute Universal Credit helpline charge. A reduction to the number of weeks before claimants receive their cash is also being considered.

And in a non-binding Commons vote - which the Tory leadership ordered abstention on, fearing an embarrassing backbench rebellion - pausing the rollout won by 299 votes to zero. Nonetheless, Tory MP Sarah Wollaston defied the instruction by voting with Labour.

Unfortunately, Labour's response to the rollout of Universal Credit has not gone far enough. The Commons motion - moved by Debbie Abrahams, a former advisor to right-winger Simon Danczuk - asked for the government to "pause the roll-out" while its problems "are fixed."

No amount of tinkering at the edges will make this weak excuse for benefit cuts fair. It needs to be scrapped altogether, and now.

The Socialist Party fights to replace it with liveable benefits, proper support to find work without compulsion, decent jobs with an immediate 10 an hour minimum wage, and an end to the demonisation of benefit claimants.

The Tories' partial retreats - on this and other issues - show their days are numbered. Mass action, including coordinated strikes, could end their hated government.

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