Universal Credit clearly isn’t working: the propaganda drive glimpsed in today's Metro is a last-ditch attempt to stymie the bad press. It's time to scrap itby Dawn Foster / May 22, 2019 / Leave a comment
Pick up a copy of the Metro today and you’ll be treated to a four-page “advertising feature” paid for by the Department for Work and Pensions defending Universal Credit, the discredited policy causing misery and poverty around Britain. So £250,00 of public money has been used in an attempt to convince people the documentation by both MPs and journalists of the system’s flaws, and horrendous pain it causes, is false.
The delays and errors embedded in Universal Credit have caused so many incidents of utter desolation.Food banks have been inundated with Universal Credit applicants, waiting for payments after jumping through endless hoops. I’ve spoken to former soldiers who tell me they waited 12 weeks for their first Universal Credit payment, living on beans on toast, constantly in fear of eviction by their landlord. A mother of three at one food bank told me the fact Universal Credit requires so much work online is a struggle—given she’s sold almost everything she owns because she hasn’t seen a single payment.
The people who designed the system must be wealthy: there is no way a normal person would embed such a long wait for subsistence benefits. Even someone who had been skint for a while would see the issue.
Living at the sharp end
But when I ask civil servants what people should do when they’re waiting for Universal Credit payments, they always reply: “live off savings.” Few Millennials in professional jobs have savings, so why on earth do political staff think people on meagre benefits have managed to save enough to live on for almost ten weeks? No wonder people are reliant on food banks: if you give people the bare minimum for survival, there’s no way they can tuck away enough cash to keep themselves and their kids fed when the money isn’t coming in.
And when people do get the payments, the DWP takes back an average of around £1 for every £10 spent. Reports suggest those who suffer deductions including people like Martin Weaver, a seriously ill 42-year old father of two. Martin has to go to hospital three times a week for dialysis, suffering from both kidney disease and heart disease. He told the Independent that the DWP deduct £90 a month from his payments—at one point, Martin was living in a caravan because he was desperately poor. To save cash, he eats beans on toast endlessly, even though his dietician warns the meagre diet will worsen his kidney disease.
A rebranding exercise
Today’s Metro is only part of a bigger re-branding exercise. But MPs have challenged Home Secretary Amber Rudd over the accuracy of the campaign, which is accompanied by articles titled “Here’s why Universal Credit is great” in local publications. Formal complaints have been lodged alleging that the advertorial is deliberately designed to look like organic content, rather than propaganda. MPs following the Universal Credit saga, running six years behind schedule, note that many people are still being advised to switch to Universal Credit from legacy benefits even though it will leave them hundreds of pounds worse off.
Universal Credit clearly isn’t working: this propaganda drive is a last-ditch attempt to stymie the bad press. A far easier way to prevent endless attacks from the press is to create a benefits system that doesn’t cause immeasurable suffering to hundreds of thousands of people.
Rudd has accepted that Universal Credit has an image problem. What she hasn’t accepted is that that’s not because too few people have written fawning op-eds, but because the entire system is broken; the more people are subjected to it, the more people talk about the grand public cock-up. Universal Credit needs a propaganda campaign because the wretch he’d policy is so broken.
Next time, then, the DWP should save their money. A better way to convince people they are listening and aware of problems is to switch from Universal Credit entirely. Accept that Iain Duncan Smith left an absolute mess behind, and start afresh. Stop sanctioning people, stop assuming people have the savings to weeks of no money, or to deal with eviction. Rudd needs to halt it, and return to a benefits system that pays people on time—one that is focused on ensuring people can eat and pay their rent. The answer is simple: junk Universal Credit.