Letter: Universal Credit – ‘Grossly ignorant?'

Date published: 24 October 2017

Dear Editor,

'Two nations', wrote Benjamin Disraeli, in his famous novel, Sybil, in 1845 'between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws: the rich and the poor'.

It's becoming abundantly clear from the complexities of Universal Credit that one hundred and seventy-two years later that Disraeli's 'Two nations' are alive and kicking.
With the poor, once again, the ones being kicked when they are down.

Nothing is more indicative of the way our governed and our governors are living parallel though distinctly separate lives than the way our political class are treated between bouts of employment & unemployment and the way ordinary working people are treated by the state.

Ordinary people making a claim for Universal Credit have to wait for six weeks before their first payment leading to rent arrears, exorbitantly priced debt, possible eviction and often forcing many no option but throwing themselves on the mercy of local food banks and handouts from charity simply to survive.

The Archbishop of York, the second highest placed minister in the Church of England, Dr. John Sentamu has recently called the six-week waiting period for Universal Credit, ' grossly ignorant' adding that:

'Our concern should be for their present-day successors whose essential outgoings are costing more and more and their incomes standing still or going down.

'They fear Universal Credit, particularly because it seems to assume that everyone has a nest egg which will tide them over as they wait a minimum of 42 days for pay-outs.'

'That is grotesquely ignorant, for millions of people, especially those in need of support, are already in debt and have nothing to fall back on.'

By contrast the same time our new Members of Parliament from our ultra privileged our political class have a significantly shorter one week maximum number of weeks before any new MP's are met by a 'dedicated Parliamentary standards authority election contact ', given a generous alary advance, and shown how to claim housing costs in advance.'

Our local councillor class of course are equally cosseted with 34% and 51% increases in councillor expenses and provided with local tax-payer funded buffets so they never have to experience anything remotely like the near destitution many of their own constituents now face on a daily basis whilst they wait for their Universal Credit claims to be processed.

Where is the compassion and dignity for our fellow citizens in this process and more importantly how can Councillors continue to claim to give equal democratic representation to people who live lives are in far too many cases so far removed from their own lifestyles that the chasm between the two has become almost unbridgeable?

Isn't it time for some long overdue fairness and good old fashioned human decency to be re-introduced back to the UK's Welfare Benefit system?

As the Mayor of Greater Manchester has pointed out: 'In Wigan, four out of five Universal Credit claimants (80.4%) ended in rent arrears. What’s the point of a pilot if you ignore evidence like this?'.

To press ahead with Universal Credit in its current format will result in dire financial social consequences for thousands of vulnerable people just before Christmas.

Campaigners have been warning of the considerable systematic problems inherent in Universal Credit with local councillors for years now without much effective result.

Now it seems the consequences are becoming undeniable.

Let us all hope sanity soon prevails before Christmas 2017 in Rochdale becomes known as 'The Foodbank Christmas'.


Andrew Wastling

The views expressed are those of the author of the letter and not those of Rochdale Online.

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