By a Lewisham Labour and welfare rights activist
It is welcome news that Unite, the TUC and Labour Party have all come out to call for Universal Credit to “stopped and scrapped”.
The motions proposed to these organisations included brief general references to reform the benefit system, so if Universal Credit is indeed “stopped and scrapped” that will complete half the job.
My union, PCS, which represents DWP workers, submitted the motion passed at TUC Congress. The motion submitted to Labour Party conference was written by activists in Lewisham but submitted by Isle of Wight CLP. I reproduce this motion below.
These are consistent with Labour’s General Election Manifesto. The motion to Labour conference did not get heard, which we would have preferred to see as carried motions become policies, whereas manifesto pledges sometimes get lost.
Margaret Greenwood, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary explained at a PCS fringe meeting and then at conference, that Labour would be inviting submissions from organisations about social security reform, but this could take a year.
Claimants groups are right to express disappointment at this. Labour and unions could do more, sooner, to alleviate the suffering and poverty caused by cuts to thousands of claimants, whilst they consult on the reforms needed.
The rest of this article explains what can be done, why it needs to be done and the dire consequences of not doing it.
What can Labour do?
The Labour Party, claimants’ unions and organisations and the TUC (including unions representing DWP workers) have the same policy.
They need to work together to put this into action. Clearly a successful vote to suspend the Universal Credit roll-out would be good. An unsuccessful one would encourage the Conservatives to press ahead.
If Labour believe that a successful parliamentary vote cannot be achieved, it should be a “day one pledge” for the new Labour Government and from now its front bench, its MPs, councillors and members should be referring to it in every communication they make.
Let’s be positive, assume Labour achieve this policy and Universal Credit is stopped and scrapped, why is that a job half done? Well it leaves us relying on the existing benefit system in the same position as we were in 1998, which need immediate action:
• We still have Work Capability Assessment (first introduced as personal capability assessment 1995, then revised by Labour when ESA replaced Incapacity Benefit)
• We still have in benefit sanctions (introduced with JSA in 1996)
• We still have unfair reviews of disability benefits (introduced in late 1990s)
• DWP estate is still owned by private companies (Goldman Sachs owns the consortium awarded contract in 1998. Not sure who owns company awarded contract in 2018)
• The DWP is still closing jobcentres and cutting front line staffing, especially those who have experience in resolving benefit problems.
PCS has been campaigning to reverse all five measures on the above list, since their introduction. A new Labour Government could suspend the use of WCA, sanctions and reviews of disability benefit from “day one”. Their abolition can follow with other changes to the benefit system, of the kind listed in the Lewisham/Isle of Wight motion.
Planned reviews of the estate in 2023, when hundreds more jobcentres and benefit centres face closure along with more job cuts, should be incorporated into the review of PFI, hopefully returning the estate into public ownership.
Again, announcing intention to do this when elected would help turn this into a General Election issue. Given the pressure the Conservatives are under, there is an outside chance concessions can be wrung out of them before an election. Cynical, but not unknown for a party clinging to power to reverse cuts, rather than lose power.
If not yes, it will be a long “first day” won’t it? Never mind, the election’s on Thursday, the first day and the announcements needed on Friday. Have a kip over the weekend and the first meetings on Monday will be with the people governments consistently ignore: claimants, groups like DPAC who represent people using the benefit system, and the PCS union, who represent the workers delivering the system.
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Motion submitted to Labour conference 2018 by Isle of Wight CLP
• the 8 August ONS figures showing that improvement in life expectancy has virtually stopped.
• the 6 August Child Poverty Action Group report on how Universal Credit’s flaws are leading to low-income families arbitrarily losing as much as £258 a month
• the July Resolution Foundation figures showing the poorest third incomes fell last year, even before inflation.
The situation is shameful. We must reverse the drive, accelerating since 2010, to make welfare less and less about supporting those in need and more and more stingy, punitive and coercive. Neither Universal Credit nor the existing framework (JSA, ESA, etc) are good. We must redesign benefits in close consultation with recipients, workers and their organisations. This must be part of a wider anti-poverty program, with a goal that by the end of our first term foodbanks disappear.
We commit to
1. Ending the benefit freeze; uprating with inflation or earnings, whichever is higher.
2. Reversing all cuts/reductions; increasing benefits to afford a comfortable, not minimum, income.
3. Entitlement conditions that are straightforward, inclusive and available to all, including migrants (scrap ‘No recourse to public funds’).
4. Paying benefits for all children and dependents.
5. Abolishing all sanctions.
6. Scrapping Work Capability and similar assessments.
7. Relevant health issues being addressed using medical professionals with appropriate knowledge of individuals’ conditions and disabilities.
8. Delivery by paid public servants via networks accessible to everyone, including provision of face-toface support for all who need it. Reversing DWP cuts and privatisation.