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Universal Credit: Islington becomes first council to vote for ‘universally discredited’ system to be scrapped

PUBLISHED: 17:28 07 December 2018

Cllr Troy Gallagher and Kathy Weston from Islington Food Bank outside Islington Town Hall. Picture: Islington Council

Cllr Troy Gallagher and Kathy Weston from Islington Food Bank outside Islington Town Hall. Picture: Islington Council

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Islington became the first council to pass a motion of no confidence in the government’s flagship social welfare reform last night.

Cllr Richard Watts speaking at the full council meeting last night. Picture: Islington GazetteCllr Richard Watts speaking at the full council meeting last night. Picture: Islington Gazette

Councillors unanimously condemned the “universally discredited” Universal Credit system, calling on the government to scrap it.

The motion was moved by Cllr Gallagher (Lab, Bunhill) and seconded by Cllr Una O’Halloran (Lab, Caledonian) who have both been monitoring Universal Credit’s rollout in June through their positions on the policy and performance scrutiny committee.

Cllr Gallagher said: “Universal Credit’s budget is £3billion lower than the support it’s replacing.

“When a government is dressing up budgets cuts as reform, it’s only the least well-off in our community that suffer.”

Cllr Troy Gallagher put forward a motion calling on the government to scap Universal Credit. Picture: Lucas CumiskeyCllr Troy Gallagher put forward a motion calling on the government to scap Universal Credit. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

Universal Credit is an online-only system combining six working age benefits into one monthly payment.

In Islington 70 people are switching to the benefit every day. As a result, rent arrears have spiked and food bank use has quadrupled, with 44 extra referrals between June 20 and September alone.

The council also gave out double the usual amount of crisis payments, which help claimants with living costs, in October.

More than 4,000 Islington households have already moved onto Universal Credit but there are still a further 21,000 or so left to go.

“When I meet residents at my surgeries I’m increasingly contacted by people at breaking point,” said Cllr Gallagher.

“The five week delays mean people struggle to make ends meet. Worst of all, even when people do everything right, the government’s cuts that are hard-wired into this policy mean the majority in Islington will be worse off. I’m proud to move this motion, but I’m saddened I have to.”

Cllr O’Halloran said: “My biggest concern is the 12pc of claimants falling through the gap – 88 per cent [of claims] are dealt with within five weeks – and this is the soft start.

“One man told me he felt worthless. Families with children are being driven into poverty.”

Lawrence Curtis, an entrepreneur from Highbuy, went 10 weeks without a payment, leaving him “destitute” and living off the favours of friends.

Lawrence, 50, of Kelross Road, had been unable to work while suffering from severe depression.

But he had to come off Universal Credit in July after receiving a grant of just under £10,000 from the Big Lottery Fund to help set up his social enterprise fitness business.

The money went on running costs, including three salaries (one of which his own), within eight weeks.

Lawrence tried to claim again on September 27 but had to wait until November to be told by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) he wasn’t gettting it.

At one point he was in more than £800 of housing arrears and fearing eviction.

“It’s just so frustrating,” he said. “You go into the job centre and it’s as if your trying to play the system.

“I haven’t got any money because they think if you’re a director of a company [which Lawrence is] then you’re self employed, which isn’t true.

“The stress has been astonishing. It’s a dreadful system and if I didn’t good people around me, in this situation, I would be turning back to drugs and drink.”

The Gazette approached the DWP for comment yesterday and later that day it deposited £317 (for October) plus a months rent money into his account. But Lawrence is still owed a second payment of £341 for November. He also questioned why the rent didn’t go straight to his housing association.

“I have bills coming up, he said. “So that money will £317 will just go. I’m disgusted with the way I’m being treated, especially with Christmas approaching.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “We are increasing the amount people can earn on Universal Credit by £1,000 before their payment begins to be reduced, to ensure work always pays.”

The added: “Universal Credit [UC] simplifies an out-of-date, complex system with evidence showing that claimants are getting into work faster and staying in work longer.

“We are working closely with local authorities and have provided Islington Council with funding to help with the introduction of Universal Credit. We have also invested up to £200m in Universal Support.

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