Yesterday the DWP revealed just how far in denial they have become over Clown Prince of Cock-Ups Iain Duncan Smith’s failing Universal Credit scheme. Despite IDS and his Centre for Social Justice cronies having first announced this project in 2009, it is becoming increasingly obvious that they have no clue of of how to administer the scheme. It now appears that between April and the end of September 2013 only 2,150 claimants were signed up to Universal Credit within the pilot region, and they are all new claimants, single people who rent their homes, have no children and are not in receipt of disability benefits. In other words people who are only in receipt of two of the six possible benefits covered under Universal Credit: Jobseekers’ Allowance and Housing Benefit.
This news follows on from the failure of the planned “national roll-out” of the scheme this October; only the Hammersmith Jobcentre Plus joined the scheme at that point, with Jobcentres in Rugby and Inverness quietly limping into the project at the end of November. This follows a number of reports in the press about massive financial wastage and a series of hugely critical reports. The media has however been relatively silent on many of the problems perceived by claimants with the Universal Credit proposals. Accessing Universal Credit will require a computer as it is part of the “Digital by Default” programme: like Universal Jobmatch this will allow clients to be tracked, but Universal Credit has been seen as a method of creating “digital ID cards”. By making it wholly a digital process this will enable a reduction in DWP advisory staff – or “Work Coaches” as they will be renamed. Claimants will need a bank account to receive the monthly payments; payments will be made to the household rather than an individual. This means the six benefits that are rolled-up into the Universal Credit payment – Jobseekers’ Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Child Tax Credits , Working Tax Credits and Housing Benefits – will be paid to a single family member, resulting in the family losing ALL their benefits if the named recipient is sanctioned. Given the new claimant commitment and the enhanced sanctions regime which allows benefits to be stopped for up to three years this is liable to cause extreme poverty. Universal Credit will also drag all those in low-paid or part-time employment into the sanctions regime; receipt of Working Tax Credits or top-up Housing Benefit will now require those in work to “sign on” and prove they are looking for better paid employment that will allow them to come out of the benefits system. Or be subject to the loss of benefits via sanctions.
It was against this background that ten claimant activists from Brent and three journalists (including one from Poland) heeded the call from the Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group (KUWG) to show solidarity with claimants subjected to this farcical scheme in Hammersmith. The call out was planned to coincide with Boycott Workfare’s current “Week Of Action against Workfare and Sanctions” and included activists from Brent Housing Action and Boycott Workfare.
After an overly aggressive security gonk had been publicly yelled out by his boss for trying to move the protesters from the public sidewalk and refusing to allow claimants to bring the KUWG’s handouts into the jobcentre, the protest went ahead without further interruption and attracted a great deal of positive attention from both claimants and local office staff. It just goes to show that unlike IDS, some of us can overcome initial teething troubles and produce something genuinely popular!