At this months’ Council meeting I was very pleased that we were able to pass a motion, seconded by Cllr Hezelgrave, calling on the administration to continue to provide whatever local support possible, to ensure all people in Derby are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.
Universal Credit was introduced in 2016 by the Department of Work and Pensions. Designed to support people who are on a low income or out of work, it replaced six existing means tested benefits as way to make claiming simpler. Nobody would disagree that simplification of the benefits system is a laudable endeavour – we should make it easier for vulnerable people to access the support to which they’re entitled. However, I believe the implementation of Universal Credit has failed and is the cause of enormous suffering.
I and my fellow Councillors are dismayed at the Government’s continued ideological attack on low paid workers, women, children and the disabled in the form of Universal Credit that is hurting people in our City.
Cuts to working-age benefits and eight years of real-terms wage decreases have condemned more people in the UK to poverty than at any point in the last two decades. Most affected are the children. Recent figures suggest that, after housing costs are taken into account, currently 32% of children in Derby are living on the breadline.
Nationally, almost 1 million children are now set to lose their entitlement to free school meals and in fact, the IFS forecast that by 2022 there’ll be a staggering 5.2 million children living in poverty in the UK – an increase of 7 per cent on today’s levels.
Despite repeated calls to pause and fix this broken policy, the Government have pushed on regardless. Ministers have ignored the plight of thousands of individuals, who have been pushed further into poverty as a result of their failure.
We are not alone in thinking this policy is broken. Universal Credit has been called a “disaster waiting to happen” by leading charities. Evidence from the Trussell Trust suggests that “Universal Credit is leaving people without money for six or more weeks, leading to debt, rental arrears and poor mental health It reports that it gave out almost 1.2 million emergency three day food supplies – in 2010 they gave out just 40,000.
We’ve also recently heard evidence from Scope that disabled claimants will lose as much as £395 a week, thanks to the callous removal of the severe and enhanced disability premiums from Universal Credit.
Meanwhile, chronically ill or disabled people are 53 per cent more likely to face benefit sanctions than their able bodied counterparts.
In the world’s sixth largest economy, no family should live in poverty; no parent should have to choose between heating their home and putting food on the table; and no child should go to school hungry.
We’re determined to support the most vulnerable and underprivileged, whether that’s by tackling fuel poverty or providing free and healthy breakfasts at school.
Sadly, it is children who we need to protect through this. My fellow Cabinet Member, Councillor Sara Bolton, speaking during the motion, aptly pointed out that the Council is already dealing with:
- 1636 children in need cases,
- 482 looked after children and
- 953 early health cases
- 550 Child Protection cases
and as Sara pointed out, these numbers are rising, thanks to ongoing Government austerity measures.
Despite this, the Council has not closed any children’s centres. Sara pledged to support young people and their families; we pledged to keep centres open, and we have.
But we can always do more.
We welcome the efforts made by Council Cabinet to support residents transferring to Universal Credit locally and I am committed along with my fellow Councillors to continue to provide whatever local support possible, to ensure all people in Derby are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve and this motion is a signal of our intent.
To turn a blind eye to the misery of thousands of families in Derby and across the country is simply not good enough.