Universal Credit is making the housing crisis worse
David Fenwick-Finn, Manchester and Trafford Socialist Party
The roll-out of the 'Universal Credit' benefits system seems to be making an already desperate social housing situation a whole lot worse.
Figures from the housing organisation 24 Housing are shocking. 86% of all social housing tenants on Universal Credit are in rent arrears, compared to 31% of all social housing tenants. These numbers, from January 2017, are up from 79% in March 2016.
And 59% of Universal Credit claimants in social housing have arrears that amount to more than one month's rent. This is a result of sanctions, the 42-day gap between the initial claim and receiving money, and mistakes made in payments due to an unfit-for-purpose IT system.
As if this wasn't enough, the average amount of arrears across all households in social housing has risen from £321 in March 2016 to £615 in January this year.
To this toxic mix we can now add people in work who are presently in receipt of tax credits, but are to be switched to Universal Credit, in the process of the 'roll up' of all the various benefits into one.
One of the pilot schemes for this is, in Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester. I'd recommend a brilliant blog by Charlotte Hughes called 'The Poorer Side of Life', which documents the weekly demo she and her helpers hold outside Ashton-under-Lyne Jobcentre.
So what's the situation in Greater Manchester? For a start, we have 80,000 across the ten boroughs waiting for social housing, according to the Housing the Powerhouse campaign.
It has proven difficult to obtain figures for evictions due to problems with Universal Credit. But anecdotally, talking to professionals in the homelessness service, a lot of the people they're seeing seem to have got into debt and arrears due to problems with Universal Credit.
Councils and social housing providers claim they are doing all they can, but it is becoming increasingly clear that this is wholly inadequate. There must be a lot more pressure, involving residents and workers, exerted on councils and the government. The only way things are going to change is through collective action.
The Greater Manchester 'Devo Manc' deal allocates £300 million for housing - but this can only go to private developers. What is needed is a massive public house-building programme. Nationally and regionally, this must be the central demand of any housing campaign.
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