The system's chaotic flaws are inbuilt, both to make it intensely difficult to claim, and incredibly difficult to continue to claim once you’re in receipt of benefitsby Dawn Foster / August 22, 2017 / Leave a comment
A few days before the general election earlier this year, I sat in a south London food bank, as people collecting food parcels told me what had brought them there. Over cups of tea, the strangers told me how getting by was a full-time job, and the slightest bureaucratic blip or whim of Jobcentre staff thrust them into destitution. Some had kids and partners, some were single; some disabled or unemployed; some in work; some were in tears, while others were barely concealing their anger. All were struggling to cover their meagre costs of living and spent hours a week trying to right errors in their benefit claims, appeal sanctions and even find out what they were entitled to.
A few weeks later, a young woman emailed me to tell me upon having a baby, she and her partner found their Universal Credit had been stopped. On giving birth, she’d attempted repeatedly to call the Universal Credit hotline to report her change in circumstances, each time receiving no answer. When she finally managed to make contact, she was chided for her tardiness despite reporting having spent hours on hold unsuccessfully, and had all benefits stopped for six weeks while a new claim was processed. With a newborn baby, no money for food or electricity and now the fear of eviction as the prospect of a month and half with no rent loomed, she was understandably desperate. They’d been to the food bank, but were told they could only issue one parcel every three months.
Frank Field, the chair of the work and pensions select committee this week warned that these situations were alarmingly common—and a deliberate function of the Universal Credit system. For these people, the benefits system isn’t failing them: it’s working exactly as it’s intended to. The bureaucratic chaos is inbuilt, both to make it intensely difficult to claim, and incredibly difficult to continue to claim once you’re in receipt of benefits. Supporters of the Conservatives’ welfare reform argue that this makes perfect moral sense: benefits should be difficult to obtain, and work should be the route out of poverty, not handouts.
This displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of benefits: simply looking at who claims should reveal this disconnect between ideology…