Almost everyday a new organisation comes forward to criticise the plans which are desperately un-thought through and likely to lead to chaos. Even the Labour Party have woken up to the oncoming shambles, whilst David Cameron tried, and failed, to remove IDS from his post in the hope of averting disaster.
Almost every aspect of the new benefits regime has come under attack, from what happens to free school meals to the wildly optimistic IT database. Few have dared to speculate the consequences should these plans go ahead – or even more terrifying, what happens if they go wrong.
A major problem with the computer system, a hardly unusual occurrence, could see millions of people, many with children, left penniless overnight. With food banks already struggling to cope with demand the UK could see food riots which dwarf the disturbances in August last year. Decent people will not sit and watch their children go hungry whilst there is food on the supermarket shelves.
Of course this is a worst case scenario. But it should be remembered that when Working Tax Credit was introduced hundreds of thousands of people were over paid and many are still paying back debts they never even wanted to this day. Just like the planned Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit could originally be claimed online. This was soon abandoned after phone lines were jammed with people trying to make sense of the cumbersome and bug-ridden website.
Working Tax Credit was a much less complex change to the benefits system, involving far fewer people, most of whom had some other income from employment. Universal Credit will affect 8 million of the poorest households in the UK who will rely on payments being made correctly and on time to be able to feed their families.
But just as chilling as a major IT meltdown is what happens if Universal Credit goes right. Even if by some divine miracle, the system works, it will mean untold devastation for millions. Self-employed people and part time workers are to be continually harassed and threatened with brutal sanctions should they be deemed not trying hard enough to find ‘more or better paid work’.
Children could find themselves going home to empty houses or forced to wander the streets as parents are sent on workfare. Employers will be reluctant to take on part time staff knowing that workers will be under constant pressure from the Government to find full time work elsewhere.
Hardship Payments, which will cover rent and the most meagre of survival expenses for those sanctioned, are to be converted into loans. This could leave families owing the government thousands of pounds. This will not just affect the so called feckless, half a million benefit sanctions were handed out last year as DWP staff were pressurised to strip support from as many people as possible.
Iain Duncan Smith expects at least 80% of people to claim online, with only scant support to be available for those unable to do so. These face to face processing centres will be overwhelmed as the harsh reality, which is that most poor people don’t have a computer at home, becomes all too apparent.
Some people will no doubt drop out of the system completely, leaving them forced to beg and steal to survive. Others will find themselves revealing highly sensitive personal and financial information in internet cafes and libraries – a recipe for mass fraud as Barclays Bank explain:
“Avoid using online banking in cyber cafés and through unsecured WiFi networks where possible. Internet cafés are not always secure and sometimes these computers save passwords and other personal information automatically without your knowledge.”
The new benefit is to be paid monthly which will prove disastrous for many claimants. Out of touch ministers claim this will help poor people to budget better – in truth no-one is better at budgeting than the very poorest who know just how hard it can be without regular sums of money coming in. It will be the most vulnerable who will suffer, leaving people at the mercy of both legal and criminal loan sharks.
It won’t just be the very poorest who be affected when the new system is introduced. Rents will go unpaid, whilst local authorities will be under unprecedented pressure to clean up the devastation caused in the lives of those who slip through the net. With Council Tax Benefit to be all but scrapped, council’s will find themselves chasing people with nothing for tiny amounts of money – an expensive and futile practice likely to result in Council Tax rises for everyone in the long term.
Even the much lauded aims of Universal Credit are bogus. For many it won’t make work pay as has been claimed and far from being a simplification of the benefits system it appears to be the most convoluted mess ever devised. Benefits are not being streamlined they are simply being renamed or moved about. So now the DWP will manage the Housing Element of Universal Credit instead of local councils, whilst the department will also take over administration of Tax Credits from HMRC. There is scant evidence that any of these organisations are ready, or even particularly informed about the changes.
With a £2 billion a year price tag for the implementation of the new benefit system, Universal Credit won’t even save any money. The entire shambles is being ram-raided into existence simply because no-one in this Government is brave enough to point out that Iain Duncan Smith isn’t actually very bright.
It may yet be that the delusions of one man, and the devastation they brought, will become the most enduring legacy of this toff Government.
Disability and universal credit (from Citizen’s Advice)