Uptake of mitigations funds falls £136 million below Executive target leaving claimants to face full brunt of Tory welfare reform package
Only 82 percent of Universal Credit claimants paid on time with more than half drawing down advance payment to avoid six week delay
January 17th: Albert Hewitt, Unite Community Coordinator said that the Northern Ireland Audit Office report issued today proved that the new Universal Credit regime was nothing less than a brutal attack on working-class people, whether in work or not.
“The rolling introduction of Universal Credit in Northern Ireland was always going to be a disaster for working people in Northern Ireland – where we have almost three in ten of working-age who are not either in work or actively seeking work. That proportion is a good 50 percent higher than the rate in England, Scotland and Wales and reflects the historic legacy of the conflict here.
“As part of a 2015 deal whereby the Conservative government promised the Northern Ireland Executive they would slash corporate taxes to 12.5 percent, the DUP and Sinn Féin voted through legislation that gave them the power to extend social welfare cuts and Universal Credit to Northern Ireland. At that time, Unite in the community organised coordinated protests outside both parties’ offices and challenged them on the mitigations package that was being sold as protecting claimants in Northern Ireland from the worse effects of their deal.
“Today’s detailed report from the Northern Ireland Audit Office confirms that the mitigations package has been a total failure. In the first two years of its operation, claimants were only able to draw down £78 million out of a total budget of £214 million. That’s roughly only one-third of what was thought necessary being paid out. Those in greatest need have effectively been denied a massive £136 million in two years and even this meagre package is set to disappear next year.
“The NI Audit Office report confirms that only 82 percent of claimants have been paid on time and in full – the other 18 percent have had to wait substantially longer than six weeks and may not have received all the money they should have. More than half of all claimants have had to jump through the hoops to apply for advanced payments to avoid a six week delay in getting money.
“The reality is that hundreds of people in Northern Ireland have been forced onto the streets or are sleeping in sheds in rural areas as a result of this Tory policy. Hundreds more are trapped living with relatives or on friends’ couches. To add insult to injury even the funding for those community-based advice organisations who help claimants make applications has been slashed. This year’s cut – the fifth in a row – are is threatened to be 11 percent. Not only are benefits being cut and applications being made much more off-putting but the support to make those applications is being taken away.
“Earlier this week, Unite in the community protested against Universal Credit at Hillsborough Castle, the palatial residence of the Conservative Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley. We will continue our campaign to demand that the Tories ‘stop and scrap’ this brutal attack on working-class people”, Mr Hewitt said.