Shrewsbury Labour Party Women’s Forum has asked local MP Daniel Kawczynski to back their call to suspend the introduction of Universal Credit in Shrewsbury. He has now forwarded their questions to the Department for Work and Pensions for a reply.

Women’s Forum chair Vikki Tranter wrote to Mr Kawczynski in early April outlining serious concerns about aspects of Universal Credit, and asking him to step in now to help prevent the extra financial hardship many working and non-working townspeople will face after it is “rolled out” in Shrewsbury next month.

Kawczynski replied: Thank you for your recent letter… I note the detailed points you have raised with regards to the roll out of Universal Credit in  Shrewsbury. I have, therefore, today written to the Department for Work and Pensions in this respect and will come back to you again as soon as l receive a response to my representationscon your behalf…. Yours sincerely.. Daniel Kawczynski.

Dear Mr Kawczynski,
Universal Credit is to be fully implemented in Shrewsbury and Atcham in May 2018. It has been discussed by the Women’s Forum of Shrewsbury and Atcham Labour Party and has given rise to considerable concern. The Forum has recently passed a resolution to write to you, expressing our disquiet and asking for your support as our MP in bringing our concerns to the attention of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.
We ask that you support our proposal to suspend the implementation in order to give time to redesign the Universal Credit system in such a way as to remove the inherent faults listed below.
● The minimum 5-week wait for claimants to receive UC payments is unfair on claimants for whom monthly salary is a foreign concept – people on zero-hours contracts, in insecure employment or forced self-employment. Many claimants live hand to mouth and they should be paid from day one and have the choice of either weekly or monthly payments. In other parts of the country, claimants who have applied for an initial loan in order to attempt to bridge the financial shortfall caused by waiting for their first payment have found themselves indebted and unable to exist on their remaining benefit when repaying the loan. This delay needs to be significantly reduced and the recent one-week reduction was only a minimal acknowledgement of this problem.
● The paying of benefit to one named individual in a household may lead to financial disadvantage for other members of the family. It gives the potential for possible economic abuse within a domestic abuse situation. UC should be paid to the partner in the household with greatest responsibility for childcare and family budgeting.
● The change of threshold for claiming free school meals will have a devastating effect on children throughout the country. In the West Midlands it is estimated that 130,000 children will miss out on free school meals. FSM eligibility also plays a vital role in the allocation of funding to schools and early years settings, supporting the educational needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged children.
● Landlords may take punitive action against benefits claimants whose payments are delayed (for instance, by the minimum 5-week introductory period), possibly rendering them evicted from their homes. Claimants need to have their rent paid directly to landlords, as under the system being replaced.
● Sanctioning claimants for trivial reasons is unnecessarily punitive. There is no evidence that sanctioning helps people into work, but plenty of evidence that it causes real harm. It is a callous act that the government has chosen to introduce.
● New claimants should be able to make applications in job centres, with the support of trained staff. The form is lengthy and complex and the requirement to apply on line is too great a demand for people who may not have access to computers or to the internet or who may lack skills in IT, numeracy and literacy. Planned job centre closures need to be reversed to support claimants in their applications and in their attempts to return to work.
● Abandon the in-work conditionality for part-time or low paid workers. The idea that there are extra hours or higher paid work for the large numbers of these affected workers is simply not the case, particularly for those living in rural areas. This clause of UC places the emphasis on individuals who often want a greater number of hours of work – and not on the employers who benefit from short hours and job insecurity.
● Self-employed women are the majority (58%) of the newly self-employed, and for a growing proportion this does not appear to be by choice but, rather, by necessity. A majority of the self-employed are on a low and irregular income and they are set to be worse off under Universal Credit. Instead of expecting the self-employed to report their earnings monthly in the same way as those who are directly employed, UC payments need to have inbuilt flexibility for those on low incomes who are self-employed.
● Some of the lowest income families, including single parent families where women are disproportionately represented as single heads of households, will lose childcare support due to the restructuring of benefits under UC. Families with one child could face a cut of up to £2,320 per year from their childcare support and £3,980 per year if they have two or more children. Parents with children under 3 and 4 are required to look for work or risk having their benefits sanctioned if they can’t find work. But with limited part-time and flexible work, lack of suitable, affordable childcare including in school holidays, single parents (165,000 nationally) in particular will struggle to find work that allows them to care for their pre-school and primary school age children. These job-seeking requirements need to be suspended until sufficient, affordable childcare and flexible work are available nationally.
● The overall level of UC funding needs to be urgently increased. The rate at which some claimants will lose benefit is set at 63p in the pound which, when compared with the top rate of income tax of 45% on incomes over £150,000 a year, demonstrates just how unfair UC is for the lowest income households.
The need for review and change is urgent and we hope that you understand the position that many of your constituents, particularly women and children, will find themselves in. The government’s responses to criticism have so far consisted of assertions unsupported by empirical evidence but we hope that you will give serious consideration to the points we raise and support the case of women and children in your constituency.
Yours sincerely,
Victoria Tranter.
Women’s Officer and Chair of Shrewsbury and Atcham Labour Party Women’s Forum

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