Universal Credit is described by the official UK Government website as, ‘a payment to help with your living costs.’
A social security benefit introduced in 2013, it is a monthly payment that replaces six former benefits: child tax credit, housing benefit, income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, and working tax credit.
On paper, Universal Credit seems like a good thing. In theory it is the government’s way of continuing to help its citizens, but in an improved, more organised manner that will benefit both parties. However, in reality, the Universal Credit scheme has various flaws. To start with, there is a waiting period of at least six weeks before an initial payment is made. This can affect the claimants of the benefit in numerous ways; such as those who used to claim housing benefits for example, not being able to pay rent on time. It has even been rumoured that landlords are beginning to refuse potential clients when they find out that they are on the benefit scheme.
The current problem at hand is that many are facing eviction, through no fault of their own, but simply because they are not receiving their money.
The protest against Universal Credit Evictions demands that no one should face eviction due to the government’s incompetence.
‘36% of those moving on to Universal Credit failed to pay rent at all in their first week’, and ‘70% of council tenants were in arrears by February’.
These figures are shocking, and give us an idea as to how many people are now facing eviction.
Last week, the protest against Universal Credit Evictions took place in Manchester. The Manchester Tenants’ Union Acorn, Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC), Greater Manchester Housing Action (GMHA) and the Greater Manchester Law Centre (GMLC) all came together to express their concern caused by the roll-out of Universal Credit.
‘People are facing eviction because of the Universal Credit roll-out. We have come together today to demand that no one face eviction, to demand the protection of housing rights, and to condemn such treatment of disabled and vulnerable people’, said Ann Icehouse, member of the Acorn Tenants’ Union.
The aim of the protest was for the Manchester City Council to make a promise to its citizens that they would not allow evictions due to late payments that directly result from the long wait for the benefit to arrive.
We can only hope that Manchester City Council, as well as the mayors and civil staff of other cities across the United Kingdom, realise the injustice of the situation — in this case, innocent people being punished. It is sincerely hoped that no one will need to face the fear of being evicted because of the inefficiency of the Universal Credit scheme.
Having said this, we cannot ignore the landlords in this situation either, who are also suffering because of Universal Crredit. We do not know the economic situation of these people, who could equally be very dependent on the regular payments they receive from rent. Although it is not right that they should evict helpless people, the fact may be that some may feel they have no choice.
It seems to me that we should more properly be protesting against Universal Credit itself, as opposed to just the evictions. The system is clearly failing the people it is meant to be helping, which is as good an indication as any that a serious change is needed.
That said, last week’s protest focused on the evictions which understandably were a more pressing matter. But we need to consider the bigger picture too, and that is that Universal Credit needs to be reworked and fast.