Is Kernow ready for Universal Credit? No! But it desperately needs to be says Leah Browning

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THE BROWNING COLUMN
Comment & Opinion
by Leah Browning
Cries from charities and support agencies that Universal credit is “Failing families” are a sobering cause for concern as full role out is due to hit areas of Cornwall later this year.
This week professionals cited the Univeral Credit roll out as a factor in the rise of rough sleeping in Cornwall.
Universal credit has already been rolled out in full in other areas and is currently operational in Cornwall for single people. Those already potentially walking the breadline will begin changing to the new “inadequate” system in the run up to the festive period as the DWP intend to begin rolling out UC to include families with less than 3 children in Launceston and Liskeard in December 2017, larger families are expected to experience the roll out in 2018.
Many in work families may not even be aware the change to the universal credit system will effect them or of the mandatory waiting period for the first payment.
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Universal credit is a monthly payment to replace other benefits, received by those out of work and on low incomes. Replacing Housing Benefit, Child tax credits, Working tax credits, Job seekers allowance and income related Employment Support Allowance, it’s
a fully digital system, with no paper alternative and only a phone helpline available.
There is a 6 week process period prior to the first payment, meaning families could receive zero financial support despite entitlement.
Many report having to wait longer, with the Trussel Trust reporting waits of up to 13 weeks and no transitional protection in place. Advanced payments can be applied for during the waiting period however are not guaranteed.
Eviction notices can be served to tenants after 8 weeks of unpaid rent (if paid weekly) or 2 months if paid monthly under section 8, with some families given 14 days to vacate the property.
Toe curling stories of sanctions, conditionality and system failures have hit blogs, forums and reports making truly uncomfortable reading, driven by clear ideology.
Following evidence from Citizens Advice outlining that the new system increases debt and financial insecurity for recipients, the current work and pensions secretary David Gauke has been advised to delay the systems full roll out and shorten waiting times for first payments.
In April The Trussel Trust raised similar concerns and calls to reduce the 6 week waiting period.
Foodbank use has risen by 17% in the last year in areas of full Universal Credit roll-out to single people, couples and families, more than double the national average rise of 7%.
Citizens Advice CEO Gillian Guy has said:

 “Universal credit is already failing too many people, pushing them into debt and leaving them without the means to make ends meet.

“The government needs to pause plans to accelerate the rollout of full service universal credit this autumn and devote the time and resource needed to tackle the key problems which mean the system is not working.”

 

With low wages, high part-time or seasonal jobs and self employment with 28,600 working families in receipt of child or working tax credits the impact of Universal Credit on Cornish communities could be harsh for many during Christmas and beyond.
How much money you receive when on UC depends on your circumstances, including your income and how many children you have. It’s designed to be a ‘reactive’ benefit.
There’s no limit to the number of hours you can work a week if you get Universal Credit.and your payment will reduce gradually as you earn more. You won’t lose all your benefits at once if you’re on a low income.
Employers and employees in Cornwall need to get informed and prepare, one incomplete or incorrect detail could result in loss of income or even a sanction.
Part time workers on Universal Credit are encouraged to seek further hours under DWP’s “Better off in work” banner. UC claimants may be forced to sign a ‘Claimant commitment’ similar ones currently asked of Jobseeker Allowance claimants that makes your benefits conditional on that amount of effort you put in to finding work. If the commitment is deemed to be insufficient by the Job Centre’s ‘Work Coaches’ it could result in sanction and loss of benefits.

 

The self employed are assumed to be earning the minimum floor income (35 hours a week at minimum wage, unless they have care commitments) and must also submit monthly accounts.

Self employed Gill Birchall from St Austell says the Minimum Floor income will “kill self employment”.

Gill went on to highlight the impact the switch to the new system would have on parents who are carers for their disabled children, explaining that it would do away with the 3 tier system and there would no longer be a middle rate of disability benefit.
Contact a Family a national charity for families with disabled children is worried that many families with a disabled child will be worse off under Universal Credit. This is particularly likely if you are an out of work family with a disabled child who does not qualify for the higher disability addition.
This is because the lower rate of the child disability addition is set at £29.10 per week. Given that the equivalent additional payment under the existing benefits system is £60.90 per week, this represents a cut of £31.80 per week or just over £1,600 per year. Since the child disability addition is paid for each disabled child, those families with two children on the lower addition could lose twice this amount.Gill went on to say “I am genuinely concerned at the lack of awareness and the devastating implications for those families who children receive middle or lower rate care component of DLA and stand to lose significant and life altering sums whilst providing care for vulnerable individuals. Being in the ‘enviable’ position of having a son who receives the higher rate holds no comfort when I can see his peers and their hardworking carers will be so adversely affected by this governments cruel attempts to save money at the expense of these disabled children.”

“Losing £240 a month will just destroy families”
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Liskeard charity Eccabi in partnership with Cornwall Housing have started running a ‘Moneybox’ course to inform and upskill local people ahead of full roll out.
“Our Money Box course is completely FREE for tenants currently out of work aged 16-64 yrs, we will cover costs for childcare, mileage, taxi fares and we also provide refreshments on the day. 
This September we have courses starting in Bodmin, Liskeard, Falmouth and Saltash. To register your interest call 01208 265723 and speak to our friendly support officers who will be able to provide you more information on the course.” Cornwall Housing
Turn 2 us have details of when Universal credit will be rolled out in your area and a benefits calculator detailing if you will be worse or better off.
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Low income families and the communities they are a part of need to ready themselves for Universal credit, building and reinforcing safety nets and developing stronger support networks, where the government is failing in it’s duty to do so.
Child Poverty Action  have led calls for people to write to their MPs not only to reduce the waiting period cash strapped families will face, but also to stop the deep cuts causing a hard squeeze on already low household budgets, increasing child poverty. CAP estimate that 1 in 4 children in the UK live in poverty.
In a county of Conservative MPs, the Conservative “flagship” is already sinking before it arrives.
*featured image from Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake

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