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Viewpoint from Rev Katy Dunn 24/11/17

Dove rightRev Katy Dunn
Minister, Minister, Newtown Methodist Church,  Christchurch United Reform Church, and Gorleston Methodist Church


as published in the Yarmouth Mercury

 

Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”:  Amos 5.24

Before I trained for the ministry I was working as a Welfare Benefits Advisor for a small disability charity.  It opened my eyes to the difficulties and suffering that people on benefits experience.  Since coming to live and work as the minister of Christchurch Methodist /URC joint congregation here in Great Yarmouth, I have seen the impact of the introduction of Universal Credit (we are in a pilot area). On Wednesday 18th October there was a debate in Parliament about ‘pausing and fixing’ UC, and it was announced that the cost of calls to the helpline (which could cost up to 55p a minute from a pay-as-you-go mobile phone) would be reduced

dove leftThe design of UC does not reflect the reality of life for people who will rely on it. It assumes substantial savings, IT access (you have to apply online), IT literacy, and monthly salaries. While these may be normal for many members of society, lots of claimants are not in that situation and are forced into debt and rent arrears
 
As UC is a single payment combining a number of benefits, delays cause suffering and destitution. One of our local foodbanks (at Yarmouth Salvation Army Citadel) was featured on ‘Look East’ recently, as UC is soon to be extended to other places
 
UC is worth less than the benefits it replaces .The benefit freeze, cuts to work allowances, cuts to the underlying tax credit rates, and a number of other changes have altered UC from a poverty reducing measure to a poverty increasing measure
 
Dove rightEarly findings on UC trials and job outcomes were based only on single people without children who were fit and ready for work. Whilst outcomes for these simpler cases were good, it tells us nothing about how UC affects the more complex cases of parents with children, those unfit for work, or those in work but with a low income. These are the vast majority of claimants
 
The design assumes that families have savings to cover 6 weeks to meet family expenses. The Office of National Statistics data shows that for the poorest families who UC was intended to serve this was never likely to be the case. Advance Payments only offer a loan of 2 weeks money to cover a wait of 6 weeks. This leaves a gap of 1 month for families to cover, leaving church run foodbanks to feed the hungry and desperate
 


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