Saturday 2nd December has been called as a day of action against Universal Credit by anti-austerity groups around the country, including Unite Community, People’s Assembly, Disabled People Against Cuts, Mental health Resistance Network and many independent campaign groups like Hands Off Our Homes.
Hands Off Our Homes will be supporting this with our own stalls in the town centre this Saturday – please join us from 11am to 1pm at our usual spot near the Body Shop in Briggate if possible, but if it rains or our spot is inaccessible on the day, we’ll be round the corner on Kirkgate (the bit that runs from Briggate through to Vicar Lane, where there’s an overhang to keep us dry). We invite everyone to join us, or alternatively make your own flyers/banners etc and do your own actions or events with your own group or organisation, or with your mates/neighbours etc – whether in town, in your own neioghbourhood or elsewhere.
You are also welcome to join the stall, leafleting and petitioning organised by Unite Community, which is a union branch for people who are not in regular waged work (pensioners, people on JSA, ESA, IS or UC, students etc). Unite Community campaigns on issues affecting people in these groups, and has national campaigns against sanctions as well as a campaign to “pause and fix” Universal Credit; the stall will be in Kirkgate, where it leads off Briggate between Debenhams and Zara and towards the market. This will also be at 11am to 1pm on Saturday, and the Facebook event is https://www.facebook.com/events/190475951516571/
BACKGROUND TO THE DAY OF ACTION
The roll-out of Universal Credit is throwing thousands of households into destitution and rent arrears, with a serious threat of eviction. Many others are being refused housing as landlords anticipate tenants falling into arrears as they are switched to UC. In Leeds, the introduction of UC for new claims for single people has already caused major problems, and across the country there is not only a surge in rent arrears but also a sharp increase in sanctioning. When UC is fully rolled out in Leeds next Summer, even people who are working for low wages, or single parents of very young children, can have their money cut if they fail to meet conditions such as increasing their earned income or attending work-focused interviews.
You may be aware that the budget reduces the waiting time for Universal Credit from 6 weeks to 5 weeks, and allows a 2-week run-on of Housing Benefit after claims for the old benefits end. Also, you will be able to borrow up to one month’s benefit money at the start of the claim, to be paid back within a year. This is obviously better than before but two weeks Housing Benefit will not prevent households being in major rent arrears and at risk of eviction by the time their claim starts to be paid. It will not make private landlords much keener to let to families on benefits (whether low-waged or unemployed/on sick/caring for young children). A loan worth a months payment only adds a considerable extra debt to the already tight budgets of people struggling on benefits/low pay.
The changes do nothing to remove the problems caused by the way the housing component is paid (to the householder monthly, not to the landlord), the way UC is claimed (online, and very complex), or the many deep cuts wrapped up in it. And of course there is nothing to dilute the central element – the punitive conditionality, extended to the low-waged and self-employed as well as those seeking work, those with disabilities and chronic illness, or with children 2 years and up, and all backed by sanctions (of course, conditionality applies in effect to most parents as the benefit cap will mean that if they do not work – even from the moment their child is born – they are likely to get too little money to be able to pay their rent).
The announced changes will not come into force until January. That means that people claiming now will get NOTHING BEFORE CHRISTMAS (except perhaps a loan of half of one months benefit to be paid back within six months).
The bedroom tax, the Shared Accommodation Rate, Lowering of LHA levels, the removal of Housing Benefit from under-22s, the slashing of benefits for under-25s, the 2 child limit on tax credits, the slashing of the Work Allowance (the biggest tax RISE ever to hit the low paid), the Overall Household Benefit Cap, the removal of the Work Related Activities component from ESA – all these cuts and more are either carried over or introduced with the changeover to UC.
We still need to see all these cuts reversed; we need to (re)-establish the principle that anyone claiming benefits will be able to afford a decent and secure roof over their head; we need a system which is enabling by helping people into proper training and decent jobs where help is needed, not fake support in the form of coercion under threat of sanctioning; we need decent early years childcare extended to all children as of right whether the parent is in paid work or not, and not just as a tool to force parents into work whether they like it or not; and respect and proper financial support for the work parents do in the home raising and caring for their children.
Please join us on Saturday, and stay in touch to help plan our next moves!
The next HOOH meeting is at 7pm on Wednesday 13th December, at the UNISON offices on Woodhouse Lane.
Hope to see you there!