Where do the political parties stand on Universal Credit?
By the time Universal Credit (UC) is rolled out completely, now estimated to be in 2022, seven million Britons are expected to be claiming it and half of those people will be in work.
But problems with the Conservative government’s flagship welfare reform have been apparent since it first began to be introduced back in 2013. The government said its intention was to simplify the benefits system by combining six existing benefits: income-related jobseeker’s allowance (JSA); income-related employment and support allowance (ESA); income support; housing benefit; and working and child tax credits, into one monthly payment.
However for many people already living in poverty life has become more precarious on UC with the new benefit linked to higher food bank use, rent arrears and some women even turning to sex work to make ends meet.
Charities such as Citizens Advice, The Joseph Rowntree Foundation and food bank provider, the Trussell Trust have pointed out serious flaws with the new system. Having to wait five weeks for the first payment; paying childcare costs upfront; and sanctions, whereby claimants have their money stopped partial or totally have all come in for criticism from charities and campaigners. Newspapers from the Guardian to the Sun have also objected to various elements of UC and campaigned for the government to make changes.
So, in the face of all these problems and with so many people due to be impacted in the next few years where do the political parties each stand on UC?
The Conservative manifesto published on Sunday confirmed the party would continue to roll out the controversial benefit but would “do more to make sure that Universal Credit works for the most vulnerable”. There was little detail however as to how they plan on doing this. What is certain is that the benefits freeze will come to an end in April if Johnson succeeds in getting a Tory majority in the General Election. Universal Credit payments will then go up by 1.7 per cent after being frozen for the past five years.
Labour have said they will scrap UC altogether with Corbyn branding it “cruel and inhumane.” The exact details of what it will be replaced with were not included in their manifesto with the party saying they would get to work on a new system straight away. Labour has confirmed they will end punitive sanctions, scrap the benefit cap, two child limit and five week wait, and replace the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) with a new Department for Social Security.
The Lib Dems say they will keep UC but get rid of all benefit sanctions and ditch the controversial two-child limit and benefits cap if they win power. They would also reduce the waiting time from five weeks to five days according to Jane Dodds who said in a Welsh televised debate that the implementation of UC had been “a total disaster”.
Party leader Jo Swinson said they would aim to make UC more accessible, Yahoo finance reported. They have pledged an extra £6bn funding increase over the next parliament for UC. “The additional money we’ve outlined we’d invest into the universal credit system to raise work allowances, and to make sure people don’t have to wait for their money,” she said.
The Green Party
The Greens say they would scrap UC and the sanctions regime and replace it with a Universal Basic Income for every citizen by 2025. Their manifesto says each person would receive a minimum of £89 per week.
“A guaranteed minimum income for every UK resident is a further building block of the Green New Deal that will transform all our lives,” Sian Berry told Green World.
“Nine years of a Conservative government has targeted and demonised people who face unemployment, disability and low incomes as the scapegoats of austerity.
“The switch to Universal Credit and unfair benefit sanctions have caused huge suffering for so many people, and are underpinned by a cruel ideology which is focused on punishment instead of society as a whole helping people when things go wrong.”
The Brexit Party
The Brexit Party does not have a manifesto but says they have instead released a “contract with the British people”. The party says: “The Universal Credit system has not achieved what was intended and needs to be revisited.” They intend to review it and make changes within two years. They also say they will support people who have paid into the system and continue to tackle fraud.
Nathan Gill, British Brexit Party politician serving as Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for Wales, recently commented that Universal Credit was “horrendous” during a televised debate.
The Welsh party are calling for powers relating to UC to be devolved to the Welsh Parliament. They have been critical of the roll-out and during the televised debate earlier in November, Plaid MP, Ms Saville Roberts estimated this would cost £525m a year. “Someone has to grip the nettle of this,” she told the audience.
The SNP say they want UC to be“radically reformed” with their website calling it and “unmitigated disaster”.
“The in-built minimum five-week delay in receiving the first payment is having catastrophic consequences, with families falling behind in rent payments and increasingly relying on emergency welfare support and foodbanks. When fully implemented, Universal Credit cuts will put 1 million more children into poverty by 2020,” it says.
The SNP say reform should include fixing the in-built payment delay; scrapping the two child cap and the rape clause; reintroducing ESA work related activity component and enhanced disability support; changing the payment system by giving people more choice in how they are paid; and introducing a minimum income threshold for self-employed people.