Tackling UK Poverty

Contributed by: John Battle, Chair of the Commission
Universal Credit logo
Evidence of the hardships caused by Universal Credit are starting to roll in

Arguments between the major political parties over student tuition fees have eclipsed any discussions of tackling real rising poverty here in the UK.

The Government believes that the reforms introduced by the new ‘Universal Credit” (which attempts to simplify and roll all social security benefits together) has resolved the problem by pushing benefit claimants quickly into work. The mantra “work is the way out of poverty” is regularly repeated.

Universal Credit logoThe problem is that the available work has changed and at the bottom end part time, temporary, zero hours contacts and self-employment are all that’s on offer in the so called insecure ‘gig economy”. Often people in work, even cobbling together two or three part time jobs, cannot earn enough to make ends meet. It is widely acknowledged that wages have fallen behind rising inflation and living costs are projected to
rise four times as quickly as wages by 2019.

In reality, those in increasing poverty are actually working and are experiencing a squeeze on their household budgets. Both working and non working benefits have been frozen and the new Universal Credit system, now being introduced, is not working properly
and is leaving even those in work short of funds and driven to food banks.

The reason is that the wage “top up” payments that used to support low wages ( ‘working tax credit), has been cut and child benefit payments are now restricted to the first two children which for many families is a cut in basic family allowances. Furthermore a total ‘cap’ has been put on Universal Credit payments and as this new system includes housing benefit for rent support rising rents are taking up too much of the total money received. If most of the Universal credit is going on rent it leaves little for food, clothing and childcare costs.

On top of all of this there is built into the application system for Universal Credit a six week delay before you can get a payment. That means if you lose your job (usually with no pay off) you have to wait six weeks before receiving any money. The rent payments go short, risking evictions.. Now national charities including Church Action on Poverty, Shelter, the Mental Health Foundation and politicians from all parties are calling for the Universal Credit roll out to be paused and for work allowances to be restored, the six weeks delay to be abolished and for housing and child allowances to be increased in next month’s Budget to take the pressure off the increasing numbers of working poor now forced to go to food banks and charities such as the SVP.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis has declared Sunday 19th November “World Day of Prayer for the Poor” with the prayer;
“Loving God, open our eyes to hear you in the cry of those living in poverty, open our eyes to see you in the lives of the oppressed, open our hearts to meet you in others and to respond with mercy and compassion. Pour out on us your grace, so that we may grow as your faithful people, always seeking your kingdom of Truth, Justice and peace through Christ our Lord Amen”

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Arguments between the major political parties over student tuition fees have eclipsed any discussions of tackling real rising poverty here in the UK.

The Government believes that the reforms introduced by the new ‘Universal Credit” (which attempts to simplify and roll all social security benefits together) has resolved the problem by pushing benefit claimants quickly into work. The mantra “work is the way out of poverty” is regularly repeated.

Universal Credit logoThe problem is that the available work has changed and at the bottom end part time, temporary, zero hours contacts and self-employment are all that’s on offer in the so called insecure ‘gig economy”. Often people in work, even cobbling together two or three part time jobs, cannot earn enough to make ends meet. It is widely acknowledged that wages have fallen behind rising inflation and living costs are projected to
rise four times as quickly as wages by 2019.

In reality, those in increasing poverty are actually working and are experiencing a squeeze on their household budgets. Both working and non working benefits have been frozen and the new Universal Credit system, now being introduced, is not working properly
and is leaving even those in work short of funds and driven to food banks.

The reason is that the wage “top up” payments that used to support low wages ( ‘working tax credit), has been cut and child benefit payments are now restricted to the first two children which for many families is a cut in basic family allowances. Furthermore a total ‘cap’ has been put on Universal Credit payments and as this new system includes housing benefit for rent support rising rents are taking up too much of the total money received. If most of the Universal credit is going on rent it leaves little for food, clothing and childcare costs.

On top of all of this there is built into the application system for Universal Credit a six week delay before you can get a payment. That means if you lose your job (usually with no pay off) you have to wait six weeks before receiving any money. The rent payments go short, risking evictions.. Now national charities including Church Action on Poverty, Shelter, the Mental Health Foundation and politicians from all parties are calling for the Universal Credit roll out to be paused and for work allowances to be restored, the six weeks delay to be abolished and for housing and child allowances to be increased in next month’s Budget to take the pressure off the increasing numbers of working poor now forced to go to food banks and charities such as the SVP.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis has declared Sunday 19th November “World Day of Prayer for the Poor” with the prayer;
“Loving God, open our eyes to hear you in the cry of those living in poverty, open our eyes to see you in the lives of the oppressed, open our hearts to meet you in others and to respond with mercy and compassion. Pour out on us your grace, so that we may grow as your faithful people, always seeking your kingdom of Truth, Justice and peace through Christ our Lord Amen”