Universal Credit cause for concern
Open letter to Chris Mr Heaton-Harris from Daventry Constituency Labour Party.
Although the Government introduced Universal Credit with the aim of simplifying the benefits system, you will be aware of numerous reports of claimants being pushed into debt by the transition to Universal Credit. The past 12 months have seen a 52% increase in the use of food banks, and even in Daventry the numbers being referred to the local food bank continue to rise.
I am writing on behalf of Daventry Constituency Labour Party following a recent discussion held by members on poverty and problems arising from Universal Credit. We would be grateful for your support for changes to the system which could considerably reduce the hardship which Universal Credit has caused.
These are: The time that those who apply for Universal Credit must wait before they receive any financial help must be very substantially reduced. People make applications because they do not have sufficient resources to adequately support their families and themselves – requiring them to wait five or six weeks before they get any help causes much hardship and can push people further into debt. This, as you may know, is a concern that has also been raised by the Trussell Trust and a consortium of churches.
A particular problem that has been drawn to our attention is that prisoners from Onley are released in London with only £46 which has to last five/six weeks until they can claim benefits, seriously increasing the risk of re-offending.
We believe it to be unreasonable that all applications for Universal Credit must be made online. Many who are poor do not have internet access, and even those who do find the application process to be complicated and confusing. While some may be able to find others to help them, it does not seem satisfactory that some claimants cannot make their own applications and manage their own affairs.
In making applications many people have queries about how they must respond to questions and the information they need to provide. We therefore believe that there must be a free-to-use, accessible telephone helpline to allow applicants to talk with an advisor rather than expecting people who are not regular internet users to need to seek answers to their questions online.
We will be very grateful if you are able to support these proposals and convey the concerns to your colleagues in Government.
Chair of Daventry Constituency Labour Party
Our real values can be swamped
Humanity has always known division and discord in its history. There never has been a golden age of peace and tranquillity. One of the reasons for this, Jesus claims, lies in our imitating the proverbial slave trying to obey two masters. We bear on our shoulders the impossible burden of serving “God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24). We want the benefits of eternity, love and peace and joy in our lives, but on our own terms thus crippling ourselves with mixed motives which soil our endeavours however honourable our intentions. We forget as human beings that we are much more than the sum totals of our opinions or bank statements or actions, but do we see that, when we are discontented with our lot? The real values that make life worthwhile often get swamped by the voices of the few who are rich in this world’s goods leaving most of us to struggle with the daily costs of living. I read recently that poverty exists not because the poor cannot be fed but because the rich cannot be satisfied. I get the feeling sometimes that altruism and the common good gets sacrificed on the altar of greed and the “national interest”. We cannot water down the demands of “loving our neighbour” and still claim that we are “loving God”. There is always a spiritual challenge in the turmoil of being alive as to how we view one another. Those who hold the microphones and the megaphones do not always hold the truth in whatever debates dominate the public scene. I was encouraged recently reading some of the sayings of St Augustine (4th-5th century) when he reminds us that” God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us.” He lived through turbulent times as we do but he shrewdly noted that we can discover the character of people when we look at what they love. We need to look long and hard at ourselves not just as individuals but as members of our society and the family of nations. Those who seek to divide us from one another for whatever reason have no divine authority for their opinions and those who think themselves better than others have yet to come to terms with the wonderful diversity that God has made possible in our humanity. In the challenging parable Jesus gave us which we call The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) we discover that help for the wounded traveller came from a compassionate man whose mixed race and historical background was decidedly dubious in the eyes of the religious and social establishment of his day. (Luke 9:51-56). Jesus would remind us that we do not need to hold a referendum to deal with the needs of a broken society. Healing and change come about by those who have the big picture of life in their hearts as God has. Who else but ourselves can bring us back to our senses?
Canon George Burgon