Newspapers have recently been carrying stories about Universal Credit being rolled-out across the UK. The system sees the main benefits, such as Unemployment and Housing, rolled together into one - Universal Credit. There are still unemployment and housing elements to Universal Credit, but only one payment is made to a claimant.
Saltcoats in North Ayrshire, which has some of the highest levels of poverty and unemployment in Scotland, has been one of the areas used as a pilot to test Universal Credit. This means anyone who attends Saltcoats JobCentre regarding their unemployment has already been on Universal Credit for a couple of years.
When someone makes a claim for Unemployment Benefit they are automatically registered for Universal Credit, which means they will wait six weeks before receiving a payment. There is no logistical or rational reason for a claimant to wait six weeks, it is simply a choice made by the UK Conservative Government.
The Tories have chosen to make people wait six weeks, with absolutely no income. The Tories have chosen to plunge people, including dependent children, into absolute poverty.
Tories point out that claimants can ask for emergency payments to tide them over the six week period. Emergency payments are made at half the level of benefits, so half the amount it has already been decided is the minimum a person needs to survive. Emergency payments are also treated as loans and must be repaid.
This decision by the UK Tory Government has resulted in a massive surge in the numbers of people becoming destitute and having to turn to foodbanks in order to eat and feed their children. At the same time, rent arrears have soared. Councils and Housing Associations are more understanding of the plight of tenants, but private landlords are unlikely to allow a tenant to go into six weeks rent arrears before receiving a payment, so more and more people are being evicted from their homes.
Once on Universal Credit, if a claimant has an enquiry, the only way they can seek answers is by calling a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) phoneline, which is charged at 55p per minute, if calling from a mobile. Most people no longer have a landline in the home and so are forced to use their mobile phone.
Like most call-centres, the DWP phoneline has a queueing system, which means callers can be waiting for long periods before they even get to speak with someone who could help answer their query.
On television this week a Tory Government Minister suggested if people couldn't afford the 55p per minute charge, they could pop into their local JobCentre where staff would answer their questions. In reality, staff at JobCentres do not deal with Universal Credit payments. The role of JobCentre staff is to check that claimants are spending at least 35 hours per week looking for work.
So, contrary to the advice given by a Tory Minister, claimants cannot pop into the local JobCentre to ask questions about their claim for Universal Credit. Neither can a claimant use a phone at the JobCentre to contact the DWP phoneline. Phones for use by the public were removed from JobCentres around two years ago.
Another point the Minister seems to be unaware of is that the Tory Government is closing JobCentres across the country. Already, people from Kilbirnie, Dalry, Beith, Largs and West Kilbride must attend Saltcoats JobCentre. The cost of travelling to Saltcoats to 'pop into their local JobCentre' would be way beyond the means of someone with absolutely no income because of the Tories' decision to impose an arbitrary six week wait for payment.
Finally, when a person secures employment, the Tory Government steals from their meagre benefit payment.
If, for example, a person makes a claim for Universal Credit on the 1st of the month, and manages to start a job on the 31st of the month, benefit payments are stopped from the last date on which the person made a claim, which would be the 1st of the month. The person, therefore, would lose four weeks benefit.
Again, there is no practical or rational reason for this decision. It is done by the Tories simply to reduce spending, by financially punishing the poorest people in society. It is done despite the fact the benefit claimant had complied in every way with strict rules imposed on them by the government.
Of course, such decisions mean people start work with no money until they receive their first wage, which could be four weeks in the future.
This is the situation that millions of people are about to be plunged into.