Amber Rudd, the new Tory Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has scrapped the plans to extend the two-child limit on Universal Credit for those with children born before April 2017. She has also postponed the next stage of Universal Credit roll-out, due to hit three million in-work tax-credit claimants within the next few weeks was postponed.
Just 10,000 will be moved to UC over the summer of 2019. Universal Credit payments will now go to the main carer in the
family, in order to safeguard women in abusive relationships. Four working single mothers have won a high court challenge over how their UC payments varied enormously month on month, dependent on when their work pay days fell.
The government must now either appeal, or make changes that reflect the court’s judgement.
Yet families with babies born after April 2017 are still on the two-child limit to Universal Credit. The notorious “rape
clause” remains, by which a mother can get exempted from the two child limit only by stating on the form that a child was conceived during non consensual sex.
The benefit cap of £20,000 for a family outside of London still remains in place. Child Poverty Action reports that 85% of those hit by that cap are single-parent households.
The move to the payment going to the carer in a family is welcome. It is still open to abuse, as the abuser (usually men) in abusive relationships can force themselves into being declared the carer and receiving all the payments. Under the old system child benefits went to the mother automatically.
People on UC are still are paid in arrears, monthly, with a five week wait upon claiming. Universal credit still incorporates cuts to benefits and extends the benefits which can be hit by sanctions.
Four out of ten UC claimants fall into arrears with rent or other bills. When universal credit is rolled out in an area food bank usage rises dramatically.
The Tories’ calculation seems to be that the three million in work who were due to be moved to UC are electorally weighty in a way that the more marginalised million already on UC are not. Yet the older “legacy” benefits have also been squeezed by many cuts.
The Labour Party has made an effort to step up its campaigning on Universal Credit and benefits both on a national and grassroots level. Its policy on Universal Credit is for an immediate pause and fix. The list of items Labour wants “fixing” has grown since the 2017 manifesto. It is now much more clearly opposed to sanctions, for example. However Labour’s current plans, if enacted in government, will leave the benefit system significantly meaner and more coercive then the system under Gordon Brown in 2010.
There is a debate among those fighting Universal Credit and in Workers Liberty’ itself about whether the principle within UC of simplification and reduced tapering can be retained by pausing and fixing all of the problems, reversing the cuts etc. They point out the many problems with the byzantine and underclaimed legacy benefits.
Others argue for scrapping Universal Credit and either returning to a reformed “legacy” benefit system or advocating a new benefitsystem based on principles of solidarity and support. They argue that UC’s centralisation of benefits in the hands of the DWP is bad, and the DWP is experienced by many as much more stigmatising and coercive than local authorities or the old tax credit regime.
This debate has been happening within the pages of Solidarity and needs to happen in the wider movement too.