Yesterday in Parliament I hosted a performance of the play ‘The Vortex’ based on the real experiences of Southwark mums on Universal Credit (UC). The play was a project of local support group ‘Mummies Republic’ who are based at the South London Mission on Bermondsey Street and funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and others. I invited the Work and Pensions secretary Amber Rudd to join the play and panel Q&A afterwards but she did not come nor did any other Minister or DWP representative sadly.
The local mums’ terrible experiences shone through in the play: UC doesn’t provide enough money for childcare; the helpline is too remote and robotic; sanctions are imposed for things like even picking up kids from school; and the debts caused by delay also cause despair and outright depression, as well as forcing people into foodbanks.
Many local organisations came, including from other faith groups, a headteacher, other women affected, foodbanks, and United St Saviour’s Trust who also undertook recent research into UC’s impact in Southwark and Lambeth involving over 70 local groups who are all propping up the failures of UC sadly. Their excellent report can be seen online here: https://www.ustsc.org.uk/news/impact-of-universal-credit-research-report/
UC was introduced by Cameron and Clegg’s Coalition and is running very late, is far more expensive than planned and DWP are re-piloting the system in some areas to see what they can do differently/better. However, despite the new pilots and inherent admission of failure, another 1.6 million people could be moved onto UC this year which will cause even more devastation for many people – as all will be required to wait a minimum of five weeks with not a penny coming in to pay rent, bills, food costs and more.
Southwark has experienced UC for longer than many areas, but even with the changes some of us have campaigned for – like reducing sanction levels and lengths and cutting waiting times, it is still pushing many people into poverty. It has even made at least two local people homeless sadly.
DWP had three aims for UC: to save money (by cutting help even for disabled people), to simplify the system (replacing 6 benefits with UC); and to get more people into work. But UC is far too complex for many people, especially those with no or low IT skills, is costing three times as much as expected and has been slammed by the National Audit Office as DWP can never claim it has helped even one person into employment.
The structural issues with universal credit are deep and destructive. This punitive system must be stopped and overhauled completely.