Speaking out against the Tories’ failed universal credit rollout and supporting local residents feeling the impact

Last night, Lambeth Council debated the rollout of universal credit, calling on the Conservative Government to listen to the examples from across the country on the flaws and failures of the rollout, and to pause the scheme until it has fixed the significant problems that are causing misery for too many residents. 

Thurlow Park councillor, Anna Birley, spoke in favour of Labour’s motion – standing up for residents impacted by benefits cuts and sanctions, calling for proper funding for local councils to provide support and a national safety net which doesn’t push people into poverty or harm. 

Her speech said:

“Tonight, I
want to talk about financial resilience.

“But first,
I’ll share a story about one of my residents. I bumped into her as she was
begging for food from a local corner shop. We talked about her situation and
she revealed that her benefits had been stopped as she had missed a couple of
appointments – originally because of a bereavement but when the sanctions meant
she couldn’t afford proper food, she could no longer take her medication on an
empty stomach so missed another meeting from ill health. After two sanctions,
she could no longer afford the bus fare either.

“I drove her
to her next appointments and after some fraught meetings, and support from
Lambeth’s Every Pound Counts and emergency support scheme, we got things back
on track. But the health impact and the trauma of the experience of having so
little she had to unscrew lightbulbs and stop eating will stay with her
forever.

“A benefits
system which forces claimants to wait up to 6 weeks for a payment, and which
has shown from its rollout so far to be flawed in its design and
implementation, will push more people into the same unacceptably difficult circumstances
that my resident experienced.

“For example,
81% of tenants on Universal Credit are currently in rent arrears compared to
38% of all Lambeth tenancies.

“And we
mustn’t lose sight of the fact that most people claim benefits precisely
because they are already in difficult personal circumstances. They have lost
their job, gotten sick, or broken up with a partner and had to move house.

“Those same
circumstances make dealing with bureaucracy more challenging. When the computer
says no, the fact that it stops a single payment of all the benefits rolled up
together can disrupt the only assistance people are getting.

“I’m really
proud of the support that Lambeth provides its residents who are struggling.
Our One Lambeth Advice service has supported over 12,000 residents – over half
of which already related to benefits issues. In the absence of a proper
national safety net, our discretionary housing payment scheme, council tax
support scheme and emergency support are some of the most generous in London –
helping residents with rent, white goods, food, fuel, council tax and
furniture.

“But in an
increasingly flawed national context, even this isn’t enough. 40,000 Lambeth
residents are likely to be affected by the rollout in our borough, and as the
Conservative Government continues to cut the council’s budget and close our Job
Centres, our ability to deliver the financial advice and support that we’re so
proud of to our affected residents becomes harder. The Government must take
urgent action to properly fund local councils to provide vital support and
pause the rollout until it has fixed the significant problems being experienced
across the country.”

The Labour motion is here: 

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