Universal Credit: Community groups warn people face hardship with new benefit

Businessman and community volunteer Dennis Hanna
Businessman and community volunteer Dennis Hanna

Community workers are bracing themselves to help hundreds of Sheffield people hit hard by the new Universal Credit benefit.

Maia Salman-Lord, who is involved in a number of community projects with St Mary’s Church at Highfield, said she was already dealing with a number of people living on the breadline and fears the numbers will rise.

“Sheffielders have seen a drop in living standards for the poorest people and even before the rollout of Universal Credit, we saw more people living destitute on the streets than ever before,” she said.

“People are turning to food banks in vast numbers as they are no longer able to feed their families due to sanctions and benefit cuts.

“For me Universal Credit is a brutal system designed to keep the poorest people at the bottom. There are so many negative outcomes, and yet again it will fall to charities to scramble to try and pick up the pieces.

“Under Universal Credit I believe we will see a massive rise in homelessness and even more people having to use food and clothing banks in order to survive. The Government is forcing its own citizens into extreme poverty.”

Dennis Hanna, a businessman and community activist, has slammed Universal Credit for being “fundamentally flawed”.

Mr Hanna, who runs the Gleadless Townenders community group and works at food banks in the city, said: “Universal Credit is fundamentally flawed in several ways.

“It is paid in arrears and it can take several weeks between the final payment of previous benefits to receiving the first Universal Credit payment.

“This involves the cessation of current benefits while the claimant makes a brand new claim for Universal Credit.

“This assumes that there are no problems. In practice, people have been without any income for several months, a delay that leads them into debt from loan sharks and expensive paid-day loan companies. The much trumpeted transition payments are just as slow and are hardly a solution.”

The Department of Work and Pensions says the Chancellor has increased spending, worth an extra £4.5billion across the next five years, to ensure vulnerable claimants are supported when they move to Universal Credit.

A DWP spokesman said: “We will put an extra £1.7bn a year into work allowances, increasing the amount that hardworking families can earn before Universal Credit is reduced.

“There will be a £1bn package of changes, providing two additional weeks of legacy benefits for those moved onto Universal Credit. A one-off non-repayable sum will provide claimants with extra money during the period before they receive their first Universal Credit payment.

“To support those in debt, we will reduce the maximum rate at which debts are deducted from the Standard Allowance element of a Universal Credit award from 40 per cent to 30 per cent.

“We have also extended the statutory notice period for people moving from their legacy award to Universal Credit from one month to three months to allow claimants maximum time to prepare and make their claim before their legacy award expires. Alongside this, we have unlimited flexibility to extend claim periods for people who need it.”