CLERICS working in the areas where Universal Credit (UC), the
Government's flagship welfare reform, is being piloted, have added
their voices to those of critics of the programme.
On Monday, the Archdeacon of Warrington, the Ven. Peter Bradley,
said that there were "grave concerns as to whether we are losing
the safety net that the benefit system should provide".
Through UC, six means-tested working-age benefits are
consolidated into a single monthly payment. The Government intends
that it will incentivise people to find jobs by "making work pay":
benefits are gradually withdrawn as income increases. It estimates
that almost three million people will be better off under the
A pilot was launched in Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester,
in April, and expanded to Oldham, Warrington, and Wigan in
"I can see several good bureaucratic reasons for bringing in the
UC system, but I fear that the needs of the individual may be lost
in the process," Archdeacon Bradley said on Monday. He reported
that a delay in receiving benefits seemed to be the "main reason"
why people were visiting foodbanks in his area.
"It feels very much that the burden is placed on the most
vulnerable in society," he said.
On Tuesday, the Priest-in-Charge of Holy Trinity, Warrington,
the Revd Stephen Parish, said that the Borough Council's
arms-length housing association, Golden Gates Housing Trust, had
reported a 23per-cent increase in rent arrears in the three months
since the pilot started.
On Tuesday, the Archdeacon of Rochdale, the Ven. Cherry Vann,
said: "I think there is an understanding that the Government is
trying to promote people to actively search for work . . . The
system is not achieving that, and actually penalising those at the
hardest end of our community."
She reported that claimants were being sanctioned for up to four
weeks' worth of benefits, for missing a single meeting: "Nobody is
asking why they are missing it. The assumption is that they can't
be bothered, but it might be a perfectly legitimate reason."
Last month, Manchester Citizens Advice Bureaux published a
review of the impact of benefits sanctions on clients and
claimants. Of the 376 respondents, almost a quarter said that they
did not know why they had been sanctioned, and "many" said that
they had been looking for work, but that the rules had been
interpreted narrowly. One respondent, for example, was tasked with
applying for seven jobs a week, but applied for five in one week
and ten the next, and so was penalised.
Last week, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) reported
that, since October last year, 580,000 sanctions had been issued.
The employment minister, Esther McVey, said that the Government was
"ending the something-for-nothing culture".
Archdeacon Vann suggested that it was a "myth" that claimants
were unwilling to work. "There are clearly people who don't want to
work and who want to make the most of a life on benefits . . . but
that is a very small minority. Most people want the dignity of
having a job."
On Thursday of last week, the Public Accounts Committee
published a scathing report on the progress of UC, the
implementation of which had been "extraordinarily poor". It
suggested that much of the £425 million spent so far would have to
be written off.
Despite its concerns about implementation, Citizens Advice
Bureau told the Public Accounts Committee that UC was "too
important a project to abandon". If the Government looked again at
the benefit, "then UC could go a long way towards achieving [its]
"Robbery". The Prime Minister defended the
Government's economic programme this week by saying that spending
taxpayers' money to reduce the cost of living was "not robbing
Peter to pay Paul - but rather robbing Peter to pay Peter". He was
addressing guests at the Lord Mayor's Banquet on Monday.
"This spending comes out of the pockets of the same taxpayers
whose living standards we want to see improve."