BBC Journalist Michael Buchanan describes the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) continued denials that Universal Credit isn’t working like “trying to talk to some sort of flat earth movement.”
Last night on the BBC’s News at 10, the leading story was on the National Audit Office’s (NAO) damning report on the roll-out of Universal Credit. As most of you know, I featured with BBC Social Social Affairs correspondent Michael Buchanan interviewing me at my home. They then showed, Employment Minister Alok Sharma being asked if Universal Credit causes some claimants to face hardship. On each of the six occasions he was asked, he deflected the question of defended Universal Credit.
Afterwards, Michael was in the studio to comment on the days events. When describing the DWP’s failure to accept that Universal Credit is beset with problems, he used a phrase which caught several people off guard. He said;
“Talking to the Department of Work and Pensions over the past couple of days about Universal Credit is in some ways, like talking to some sort of flat earth movement”
In my opinion this is probably the best way the DWP’s conduct can be be described. They’ve had report after report condemning the “flagship” benefit , yet the constant stream of prepared statements saying that ” employment is at an all time high” or it’s getting more people into work, is tiresome to observe. There are problems with both of these statements.
The NAO’s report said that the DWP itself accepts, it may never be able to tell if indeed Universal Credit does get people back into work. Furthermore the claim that employment is at an all time high is, in my opinion misleading.
The current government class anyone who has a job, zero hour contract workers included, as working. Yes technically they are in employment but, it’s not giving a fair representation of the true state of how many people are in work and able to support themselves from it.
Now considering the scale of the problems raised by the National Audit Office, I expected that The Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey would be talking to defend it. Whilst she did defend it, this was via retweeting official DWP tweets. She decided to throw her ministers under the bus instead.
It was left up to the Employment Minster, Alok Sharma to talk to the media. You could watch him and hear him on several news and media outlets. If you did you’d be forgiven for thinking he only gave one interview all day. He repeated the same thing over and over. “The DWP don’t agree with the report”, “employment is at an all time high” and, “we give 100% advances now etc.”
Now I addressed the first two points above I just want to say something about him bragging that people can get “100% advances from day one”.
The loan you can’t control
The advance system is a major reason people are struggling from day one. You are effectively being given a loan, just without a credit check or any other checks to ensure that you’re not paying back too much at a time and leaving yourself short because of it.
I have £125 deducted leaving me with £190 per month but, I have seen cases were it is more still. This I believe, is unethical and unfair. As it’s not a loan, you have no to way to seek redress except by contacting the DWP. Now why would they help you?
Mr Sharma saying; we’ve made it better by enabling 100% advances, is insulting and just ill informed. They are causing debt, hardship, poverty and destitution. How is that an improvement?
After seeing the report and sharing my experience, the feedback has generally been supportive, with even a few Conservative MPs have contacted me offering support. The Department from Work and Pensions , namely Esther McVey, need to get their heads out the sand. Whilst the report said it would be too costly and complicated to go back to the old benefits system, they did say the roll-out should not go any further until they make changes.
The DWP do not care about anyone that’s either not in employment or are unable to work. All they care about are those hallowed employment figures being high. For people like me that can’t work, we are more than a burden to the DWP, we are a problem.
Going by the language used by the DWP yesterday, this doesn’t seem likely at all. There are several ongoing legal battles so for now we are going to have to wait and see what happens with them.
The government is under pressure from all sides now.
Brexit, Windrush, Grenfell and now Universal Credit, they are continually getting things either wrong or are just being plain callous. How long will they survive I honestly don’t know?
Things need to change though and they need to change soon.
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