Helen Pattison, London Socialist Party
The introduction of Universal Credit, under which families can lose £200 a month, has rightly provoked outrage.
Among its possible impacts, this week even the home affairs select committee – a body itself made up of pro-cuts politicians – raised fears that Universal Credit would represent a “retrograde and backward step” in tackling domestic abuse.
This was down to the potential for the (often already limited) financial independence of women trapped in violent or controlling relationships to be removed.
Child benefit, which up until now has been paid directly to the primary carer for children (usually a woman), will be included in Universal Credit.
Women are often forced into financial dependence on partners because women’s unequal pay as well as high childcare costs can make it cheaper for women not to work, whether they choose to or not.
Under the new scheme, one single payment will be made per household.
That means that, if the claim is made by a couple, only one partner will receive any money. This also applies to Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance and Working Tax Credit. In abusive relationships this can be dangerous.
Trade union pressure
The precursor to child benefit, family allowance, was created under the pressure of the trade union and labour movement – particularly from working-class women – as part of the creation of the welfare state.
It was paid directly to the “individual citizens who were undertaking the rearing of the citizens of the future”. This universal payment, made to anyone caring for children, gave some important financial independence to many women. The payment was also made directly to single mothers.
In the decades since its introduction campaigners have repeatedly had to fight to defend these payments.
The Con-Dem government introduced means testing for Child Benefit in 2013 for the first time, meaning it is no longer universal. And, thanks to Universal Credit, it will also no longer be automatically paid to the person mainly responsible for caring for children.
With two in five Universal Credit recipients set to lose as much as £52 a week, this attack isn’t just limited to the question of how benefits are paid. It’s about driving people further and further into poverty – itself a major barrier to people being able to flee violence and abuse.
The Socialist Party stands for the immediate scrapping of Universal Credit. We say no to the Tories’ vicious ‘two child’ policy, which limits payment of child tax credit or Universal Credit to a family’s first two children.
What we say
We demand council house building so that every family can afford a roof over its head. We say benefits should provide enough money to live on. What’s more, we call for free or low-cost childcare, the scrapping of zero-hour contracts and a minimum wage of at least £10 an hour – as a step towards a real living wage.
This would lay the basis for the ending of the disgrace of child poverty and help prevent women and children from being trapped by abuse.
All of these issues are being discussed across the women’s and workers’ movements because years of austerity have gutted the services that have been hard won, such as domestic violence refuges.