Northern Lights: How Universal Credit has affected Sheffield families
When the all singing, all dancing Universal Credit was announced in 2010, it wasÂ lauded as a rationalisation of benefits that would roll up to six means-tested benefitsÂ into one, and a panacea to ameliorate poverty, while making work pay.
Ian Duncan Smith, the arch architect of Universal Credit, in 2010Â claimedÂ it would ensure that people would always be better off in jobs and thatÂ the planned rationalisation would save the nation Â£38bn by 2023.
However, since its roll out '˜pilot stage', through to its promised full launch in 2017Â and right through to it being held in abeyance this autumnÂ itÂ has been nothing but problematic. Duncan Smith claimed that instead of grasping the nettle, the lastÂ Government had watched as economic growth bypassed the worst off and welfareÂ dependency took root, which he saidÂ resulted in the breeding of hopelessness and intergenerational poverty. Others in hisÂ Government replaced these words with '˜chosen idleness'.
Welfare support groups have been highly critical of the turmoil the pilotÂ has brought. Expressing their deep concern at the potential it brings toÂ cause diminutions in the living standards of families, due to inherent system flawsÂ and the fact that Universal Credit has been formed out of an ethos aligned toÂ and driven by the Government's '˜harsh environment' principles.
Pursuance of the multifaceted '˜harsh environment' hasÂ causedÂ untold suffering and unwarranted fear and foreboding to many, inclusive of members of our British Caribbean community and as weÂ saw, Sheffield's Caribbean Wind RushÂ community was not immune.
Then there was the dreadful punitive fiasco of those on Working Tax Credit beingÂ targeted, wrongfully accused of claiming this benefit.Â Sheffield familiesÂ entitled to this support were stripped of much needed basic funding and forcedÂ to be reliant upon food aidÂ provision and placed at risk of homelessness.
Sheffield MPs were inundated with parentsÂ inÂ desperate statesÂ and despite welfare support andÂ equalities agencies making representation against harms being caused andÂ calling for these harms to be curtailed, they were ignored by Government. It was onlyÂ following outcry and contestability in Parliament this was overturned.
Disabled people, including children and their families, were not bypassed by theÂ '˜harsh environment' ethos either, as claims were levied against them of them beingÂ shirkers and again undeserving of support. It has notÂ been surprising for us in equalities and human rights to have found Â cases brought against these decisionsÂ haveÂ almost in their entirety resulted in funding being reinstated to these people.Â
While the Government said they brought in the '˜harsh environment' to save money,Â their vanity flagship Universal Credit, has wastedÂ millionsÂ since 2010. An example being the Government's own Major Projects AuthorityÂ agreeing to write off at least Â£140m ofÂ tax payers' money on the UniversalÂ Credit linked IT project that was always a no-goer.
Instead of holding their hands up, the Government reverted to type,Â laying sole blame on civil servants, including the DWP permanent secretary, Robert Devereux, claiming it was he that hadÂ failed in the management of the Â£2.4bn universal credit scheme.
The Government would not heed their most senior civil servants' advice, instead theyÂ steam rolled ahead and are putting blame upon their already overworkedÂ civil servants.
Even the recent budget bail out of Universal CreditÂ isÂ nothing short of putting lipstick on a corpse.Â
This is an Emperor's New Clothes way of working, in which Government seeks toÂ surround themselves with only voices that echo their own,Â even when the course they have chosen to go down is a catastrophic one. ThisÂ approach is not solely vested in theÂ Â DWP, we saw itÂ clearly in theÂ DfE too, when Government despite knowing the imposition of GCSEs upon theÂ early years sector would result in job losses, training providers going to the wall andÂ nursery places being lost for some of our most vulnerable children,Â persisted down another vanity project route.Â
What is needed isÂ forÂ Government to listen to those whoÂ sayÂ Universal Credit is not feasible, harmfulÂ and needs scrapping.
At times, even emperors, have the need to listen to the soundÂ advice of advisors, especially so in this case, as it has comeÂ from those whoÂ proffer evidenced based advice. Advice, it seems, contrary to what they want to hear.Â