Gazette column - 15/8/19

Whatever your income, whatever your age, wherever you live, whether in work or out, the chances are you’ll know or have heard of someone whose life is a nightmare because of the botched Universal Credit benefits system.

The Tory flagship assault on working people is proving calamitous for our region and the country with taxpayers’ picking up the bill for a medieval form of torture.

Universal Credit’s fuelling huge rent arrears with the average £662 owed on South Tyneside by tenants put onto Universal Credit nearly £170 per person higher than the £494 debts of those still on old-style Housing Benefit.

In the Gateshead area, part of which is covered by my Jarrow parliamentary constituency, an average £283 owed before Universal Credit’s more than doubled to £583 which is the fault of the Conservative Government and not the local authority. 

Across North East England, some 116,000 people are on Universal Credit and a sorry story of delays and mistakes are the grim reality behind glossy Conservative propaganda pretending everything’s hunky-dory.

No wonder Universal Credit’s one of the most significant concerns of people coming to speak to me at advice surgeries.

It simply isn’t working for claimants whether they have jobs or are looking for employment.

Families who must wait well over a month for payments or have lost income after being transferred onto the new benefit find themselves struggling to make ends meet, many forced to rely on Foodbank charity.

What was billed as a simplified system is complex and too often inflexible, failing to respond swiftly to changing circumstances.

When almost three million children are in poverty, and in the North East more than 88,000 emergency food parcels were distributed over the past year, the misery is a damning indictment of a cruel Government. 

That people are going hungry and can’t afford their rent does not bother the Tory privileged elite who take great pleasure in inflicting misery on working people with no concern given from a Conservative establishment living in ivory towers.

Tory Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, clinging to her job under Boris Johnson who doesn’t give too hoots for anybody who wasn’t in the snobby Bullingdon Club, admitted Universal Credit was pushing some people into debt and said claimants should receive their money faster.

Lip-service is patronising when the five-week wait for Universal Credit is far too long, when people at the sharp end of the system continue to pay the price for Conservative complacency.

What we need urgently are firm proposals to shorten the delays and build a system which makes work pay instead of trapping workers below the breadline.

Because the five-week purgatory periods are part of a wider problem when clawing back help after people find work means the effective tax rates imposed are far higher for the millions than millionaires.

The rate of deductions is a disgrace and the earnings rules are confusing while the ever-present threat of draconian sanctions is used to instil fear.

We want a social security system which works for everybody, particularly people in work. Instead we have universal misery under the Tories.

Meet your MP

 Stephen-Hepburn-MP

Stephen Hepburn has served the Jarrow Constituency as MP since 1997.

He was last elected to serve in June 2017 and won the seat with a conclusive 17,263 majority.

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