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24 Mar 2017

Universal Credit: Claimants ‘stealing food’ to eat due to benefit delays

Universal Credit: Claimants ‘stealing food’ to eat due to benefit delays

Alan Wheatley

Notes


At Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group's weekly business meeting on Thursday 23 March, though we warmed to the page 2 prominence given to your news story 'Universal Credit: Claimants "stealing food" to eat due to benefit delays: Finance chief warns people are being forced into new debt',(1) we were very concerned at what to us seems a fundamental error in one sentence of your report.

That error concerns the length of wait for Universal Credit payments to be processed. You report, 'In some cases, people are waiting up to six weeks before claims are processed.' Waits as long as six weeks for benefit claims to be processed and "unacceptable" telephone helpline service standards are nothing new and pre-date Universal Credit and even the 2010 General Election. In November 2006 Community Care magazine reported: "MPs slammed Jobcentre Plus for leaving 21 million calls unanswered. Despite government claims of improvements, stories of poor service continue to mount."(2)

Where our 'experts by experience' would disagree with your report is that we believe your report should state, 'People wait a minimum of six weeks for claims to be processed.' Those delays are exacerbated by the income fluctuations caused by processing of Universal Credit claims in zero hours economies; and the DWP's deepening reliance on 'pay-as-you-go' call-centre service delivery that  penalises economically vulnerable people for their vulnerability.

Now, as you report, 'Telephone calls [to the Universal Credit helpline] can cost up to 55p a minute from pay-as-you-go mobile phones, which are commonly used by people with lower incomes. Wait times to speak with an adviser can be very long – one claimant in Camden has reported that their phone bill for a month was over £140, used almost entirely on calls to the DWP.”' That is an all-too-common experience, leading in many cases to rent arrears and subsequent evictions.

This sickening system leads more and more people to sickness and suicide, while the DWP refuses to take lessons from coroners courts and insists instead that disability benefit claimants be reassessed every six months as standard.(3) Against that backdrop, Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group will be highlighting local benefits-related suicides on Monday 3 April as follows:

12 Noon: Assemble outside Kilburn Jobcentre, Cambridge Avenue, NW6 5AH for rally with local Labour MP Tulip Siddiq, PCS (jobcentre workers union) National Executive Officer Zita Holbourne and Brent Trades Council Executive Committee.
12:45: Black Flag march to Paddington Cemetry via Kilburn High Road.
13:30: Address at Leon Burmont graveside by Dawn Butler MP and RMT Political Officer Cat Cray.

14:00: Prince of Wales PH, Willesden Lane NW6 for Tea & Sandwiches

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