Executive Leader Cllr Kieran Quinn

Kieran Quinn's Blog  

Councillor Kieran Quinn

Universal Credit Isn't Working

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Universal Credit isn’t working. The list of people saying it now extends to council leaders across Greater Manchester, local MPs and the Mayor. I fully agree with them, and I’d argue even among this growing clamour of voices, Tameside’s carries a particular authority. We were one of the first areas of the country to pilot the scheme in 2013.
I know what you’re going to ask now, “If you think it’s such a disaster. Why did you do it?” Firstly, because it was clear that it was going to happen regardless of whether or not we took part. Better to have a rollout of a system informed by real experience and learning than a rollout of a system that hitherto existed only on paper. Secondly, because we honestly believed that, if it was delivered properly, Universal Credit had some real positive elements. At its best, it wouldn’t just support unemployed people into work, it would give people already in employment the helping hand they’d need to develop their skills and move into better jobs.
Unfortunately, what we’ve ended up with is light years away from that early optimism. On the one hand, the government kept shifting the goalposts (Largely, I suspect, at the behest of the Treasury), cutting payments to the bone and imposing ever more conditions on who could receive what. On the other hand, they consistently refused to listen to feedback and learning that councils like Tameside gave them about what was happening on the ground.
We have been warning that the impact on families, couples and individuals was beyond acceptable, as shockingly depicted by the story in yesterday’s Manchester Evening News about the nurse forced into debt by Universal Credit despite working 54-hours a week. We have been warning that the development of the system just wasn’t working. The response of the government was, and has been, to plough on regardless. Plough on, and deflect the blame for any failure onto local government, housing providers and even the claimants themselves.
If it wasn’t abundantly clear before, it is now. Universal Credit in its current form is broken on just about every level. It doesn’t work for local authorities, it doesn’t work for communities and it absolutely doesn’t work for claimants. It’s nonsensical and damaging to continue with the rollout of such a system. I still believe that Universal Credit as an idea can be saved, but only after a genuinely inclusive, meaningful, root-and-branch review. Every problem needs to be properly identified and understood, and every solution, no matter how expensive or unpalatable for the government, needs to be implemented in full.
Over the past seven years of austerity there is no part of our national safety net that has been cut as hard and as often as the benefits system. The time has come for a new model. A model based on fair principles. The principles of support for those in greatest need, dignity and respect for claimants, and genuine opportunity not just for those making the transition from benefits to work, but for those who want to take a step up in work as well. In one of the richest countries in the world no family, couple or individual should be at risk of further debt, rent arrears or homelessness through no fault of their own. They absolutely shouldn’t suffer that risk from a system that, on paper, is supposed to help them stand on their own two feet.   
The government needs to act now, and it needs to act without delay. I hope you will join me and the many others in making the voices of reason and compassion heard. Too much is at stake for too many people for us to stay silent. 

Posted by: Kieran Quinn

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