Evidence session for MPs with the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights
The APPG on Universal Credit is a cross-party group, which was established in order for Members of Parliament of all parties to be able to come together to discuss the experiences of their own constituents, to receive advice and support from various agencies, to share best practice at supporting constituents and monitor this critical policy as it is rolled out.
The APPG accepts the core aims of Universal Credit (UC) in simplifying the benefits system and making it easier for people to move into work. The reality of UC, however, does not live up to these good intentions. We are seriously concerned that the design of UC does not sufficiently take into consideration the specific needs of the poorest working age people in the UK, and that in its current form, UC does not work in their best interest.
On 14 November 2018, the APPG held an evidence session with Professor Philip Alston the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights during his visit to the UK.
The following parliamentarians were present: Co-Chairs: Ruth George MP (Chair of the Universal Credit APPG) & Alison Thewliss MP, Tracey Brabin MP, Ruth Cadbury MP, Peter Grant MP, Sharon Hodgson MP, Kevin Hollinrake MP, Danielle Rowley MP, Emma Lewell- Buck MP, Baroness Ruth Lister, Tommy Shephard MP, Stephen Timms MP, Baroness Molly Meacher.
- PROFESSOR PHILIP ALSTON, UNITED NATIONS SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON EXTREME POVERTY AND HUMAN RIGHTS
At noon on Friday 16 November I will present my finding from my 2 weeks visit to the UK.
My 10 page report will look at how poverty is viewed here and how it fits with the country’s commitment to Human Rights.
I hope my statement will be the beginning of a continuing discussion about the impact of poverty on the human rights of people in the UK.
I have met with a range of Ministers who were strongly defensive of government policy. In my conversations with them there was a tone deafness that is pre-determined and a solid denial of the problems. However, in my experience there is a tipping point in issues like these.
I will be presenting my final report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in June 2019.
- RUTH CADBURY MP
My constituency had full service UC roll out 18 months ago, but claimants are still experiencing problems. Particularly constituents on low wages, who have long-term sicknesses, are victims of domestic abuse and lone children.
- KEVIN HOLLINRAKE MP
UC was introduced in my constituency in 2017. There are problems with fluctuating incomes and claimants who are paid weekly being moved to a monthly UC payment cycle. UC is neither universally bad or good. We need to find out how to improve it constructively.
- BARONESS LISTER OF BURTERSETT
There is a gap between the evidence from claimants and the government’s response to helping these claimants. The government does not carry out impact assessments so there is no measure of the impact of its welfare policies.
There is institutional indifference to the impact of UC. Poverty is a Human Rights issue -people should have the right not to be living in poverty.
- STEPHEN TIMMS MP
Professor Alston visited areas in my constituency on Monday in Newham.
The 5 weeks wait for UC is completely indefensible. Despite the announcement in the budget that income-based Jobseekers’ Allowance and ESA, or Income Support – will continue for 2 weeks to bridge the gap between payments, the wait 5 week wait will still apply for people transferring from legacy benefits onto UC.
- SHARON HODGSON MP
I would advise Professor Alston to watch the Panorama documentary from Monday: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0bs39ky The programme highlighted that the housing element being paid directly to claimants is causing homelessness.
The idea is that UC mirrors work but it doesn’t. Many people are paid weekly not monthly. On UC, many constituents are getting less money, less often. If they are getting less money they need more money often, not less.
Constituent case example: My constituent was transferred onto UC. However, she lost £300 per month because housing benefit was considered in her UC claim, even though she wasn’t claiming housing benefit when she was on legacy benefits.
- TRACEY BRABIN MP
I have constituents selling off their white goods one by one to make money, another sold everything of value she owns, including her jewellery to be able to afford to live.
The transfer from legacy benefits to UC is clunky. If a claimant requires a GP note or proof from their doctor for their claim they will often have to pay for it. This is an additional expense and if they can’t afford it, payments will be delayed further.
UC does not work for those with fluctuating incomes, such as those who are freelance or self-employed. This means working class voices are leaking out of certain employment sectors as they cannot afford to work in them.
- DANIELLE ROWLEY MP
Austerity is having an adverse impact on women. I led a Westminster Hall debate on the single payment of UC.
Constituent case example: My constituent put in a joint UC claim with her partner. She then split up with her partner and he put in his own claim. Her claim stopped and his continued. She now can’t access the money from their joint claim that is hers.
The Scottish Parliament voted to have split payments. However, the government is not helping the Scottish government to take it on.
Women and Domestic Violence charities have raised concerns about how single payments could be used as a tool of abuse.
The Work and Pensions Select Committee Report on Universal Credit and domestic abuse found that the single payment of Universal Credit was helping victims be trapped in abusive relationships.
Foodbanks in my constituency are now being used for essential items rather than extras, such as women using foodbanks to access sanitary items.
Other issues my constituents have experienced:
- Payments stopping for no reason. Often due to a technical glitch in a claimant’s journal, as they have no internet access, or they are IT illiterate.
- Claimants being directed by the Job Centre to their local libraries to get help to complete their UC application, when many libraries around the UK are facing cuts or closure.
- My constituent had her claim stopped for 6 weeks as she was living in a 3-bed council house and was told she should be a 2 bed. However, there were no 2 beds available for her.
- BARONESS MOLLY MEACHER
UC and how it is structured is an ideological decision. The cuts to the welfare system have significantly impacted disabled people. Applications for UC are made online. It is almost impossible to do a UC application on paper. This is a barrier to disabled people
Recommendation: Single parents of children aged 1-4 years should be exempt from being sanctioned.
- PETER GRANT MP
My constituency will have full roll out of UC before Christmas.
The workload for MPs and their staff is already substantial under UC live service due to the complexity of cases. The work and time my staff spend on trying to solve problems with UC is costing the taxpayer.
I have had to take staff of other casework and onto UC cases to manage the workload. I have also had to take staff off UC cases due to the distress working on them has caused over long periods.
Constituent case example: In legacy benefits you automatically get your Council Tax paid, so claimants are not used to checking. In UC council tax is not paid automatically.
Within a short period, a claimant can fall into council tax arrears with the local authority and receive demands for payments.
There is no-one responsible for telling claimants they must pay their council tax themselves. Claimants need support and help to do this. It should be in the system.
- EMMA LEWELL-BUCK MP
The government won’t listen until we have the data to back up our claims. I am calling on the government to start measuring food insecurity across the UK.
I would ask all MPs to support my Food Insecurity Bill which has support from 77% of the public.
- Professor Alston published a full report of his findings in June 2019.