Universal Credit and 'managed migration'

By Bernadette Meaden
September 14, 2018

Universal Credit can no longer be seen as a benign attempt to simplify the benefits system. As Justin Welby said, “It was supposed to make it simpler and more efficient. It has not done that. It has left too many people worse off, putting them at risk of hunger, debt, rent arrears and food banks…What is clear is if they cannot get it right they need to stop rolling it out.” 

And yet, there still seems to be very little awareness of the disaster which will certainly unfold if the government goes ahead with its current plan – a plan that is almost unbelievable in its recklessness and irresponsibility. The government refers to this plan as ‘managed migration’ but it promises, in reality, to be a chaotic mess which could leave some of the most disadvantaged people in society without support, some of them in the final days of their life.

What the government intends to do, from July 2019 onwards, is to send a letter to over two million households, informing them that their existing means-tested benefits and/or tax credits will be stopped, giving a date by which they must make a new claim for Universal Credit.

Anyone with an ounce of imagination or compassion would immediately know that this is a recipe for disaster. These letters will be sent to people who are terminally ill, people who may be in hospital when the letter arrives, people who may be experiencing a mental breakdown. They may be received by carers who are at the end of their tether. Many organisations have voiced their concerns, but the government has shown no sign of listening.

The Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Association, representing people with a terminal, incurable illness says, “There is a strong possibility that people living with MND and other disabling conditions will be unable to complete their applications in time due to the impact of their disability, leading to the loss of essential support on which they rely…Furthermore, it is likely that claimants of legacy benefits will undergo significant stress and anxiety when notified that their legacy benefits will stop and that a new claim for Universal Credit is required. Many claimants have previous experience of the DWP’s poor record of assessing claims for disability benefits…As well as the initial application, it is a cause for major concern that people living with MND may be required to take inappropriate actions as part of their Universal Credit claim, such as attending a work-focused interview with a work coach.”  

For people with a mental illness, the fears are similar. Mind says, “The notice that their benefits will stop is likely to be very destabilising for people who may be very unwell and fearful about the future. Even with safeguards in place, the current approach will generate anxiety and fear around the process of moving to Universal Credit.”

Despite the DWP saying there will be some safeguards for vulnerable claimants, Mind says, “There are many circumstances where people could potentially slip through the net. For example, the relatively common situation where a person is too anxious to open official letters, or to answer calls from unknown numbers, and who does not understand that they are being migrated. Or alternatively a situation where a person does not disclose their mental health problem to Department for Work and Pensions staff, misses the deadline day because of ill health, and has no evidence to show ‘good reason’.”

And who could have any faith in the safeguarding abilities of a department that has presided over terrible disability assessments, under a government which has been found by the United Nations to have committed ‘grave and systematic abuses’ of the rights of disabled people?

Mind concludes that “No-one subject to managed migration should have their existing benefit stopped until they have established a claim to Universal Credit.” For anyone who had any sense of responsibility or a duty of care, this would be blindingly obvious.  

The fear is that if ‘managed migration’ goes ahead as planned, yet again the most vulnerable people in society will be made to suffer extreme stress and hardship, putting them at risk of hunger and homelessness. Many more people may simply be broken by an inhumane and insensitive system, will fall through the threadbare safety net which has been cut and cut again. We may see significant and entirely unnecessary destitution – an ancient evil that the welfare state should have banished for ever.

And let us no longer call the numerous terrible features of Universal Credit ‘design flaws’, as if they could be mistakes or oversights. Time and time again, when its designers had a choice to make, they chose to be harsh and punitive. When told by domestic violence charities that single payments to a household could give abusive partners more control, that was ignored and single payments went ahead. Universal Credit's designers chose to make people with no savings wait a minimum of five weeks (originally six weeks) for a payment. They chose to halve the allowance for a disabled child, chose to abolish the Severe Disability Premium, and made many other choices which they must surely have known would make life harder for people who already have difficult lives.

It was possible to design Universal Credit with humanity – Advice Northern Ireland has produced a blueprint. But that didn’t happen, and what we got is an awful mix of cruelty and incompetence. Ideally it should be scrapped. There is certainly no conceivable justification for going ahead with the reckless and irresponsible ‘managed migration’.

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© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

 

 

 

 

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