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News - 30 September 2019 (Left Foot Forward)

Progressive bodies from unions to think tanks have broadly welcomed the announcement that Labour would reform Universal Credit — although most agree that how this is done is critical. Mark Serwotka, general secretary at civil and public servants’ union PCS, agreed that Universal Credit (UC) has been “an unmitigated disaster”.

“It’s great news that a future Labour government will radically overhaul the social security system, scrap UC, and create 5000 new jobs in a new Social Security department,” he said. Serwotka said his members had done their best to try and make UC work for claimants, but the system needs investment and radical reform — which is something PCS has long called for. “We look forward to working with a future Labour government to create a social security system that is humane, well staffed and that stops seeing claimants as a burden on society,” he said.

Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, also welcomed the announcement, describing the current system as “cruel and miserable”. Liane Groves, head of community at Unite, said that although UC is meant to streamline the system, combining six welfare payments into one, the introduction was inherently flawed.

“It makes people wait five weeks without any money coming in. People, desperate to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads, are plunged into a sea of debt from which they can never escape. This state-sponsored despair must cease,” Groves said.

“For tens of thousands, their lives have been made a misery by Tory ministers hell-bent on their austerity agenda, whatever the human cost.”

UC’s results have been highly publicised: long delays to claims pushing more people to use food banks, contributing to unacceptable levels of stress for claimants — in some cases allegedly leading even to suicide.

Unite has been campaigning for the reform of the system since its inception but given its manifold problems and the human suffering had already switched to calling for its end, the union indicated in a press statement.

A future system, according to Groves, should be based on principles of social justice, with the objective of ending poverty.

First steps should give relief to those struggling with a new government committing to replacing UC as soon as it takes power.

Full details of what an incoming Labour government would do are yet to be made available beyond Corbyn’s “emergency reforms” ahead of any total replacement, however.

Economic analysis flags up need for detail The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) also reacted swiftly to the announcement, with researchers Robert Joyce and Tom Waters shining a microscope on the detail so far, likely benefits and overall costs. They said that indicated reforms could, compared to current policy plans, top up the . . .


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