Around 14,000 local families are facing crippling debt, fuel and food poverty and mounting rent arrears unless the measures to mitigate against the impact of the Universal Credit system are extended immediately. Families will also endure further financial hardship if the £20 uplift introduced at the start of the Covid pandemic is not made permanent.
Despite a commitment in the New Decade New Approach agreement to extend the mitigation measures, the necessary legislation has yet to be passed by the Assembly.
As the deadline for ending the £20 per week uplift to Universal Credit payments approaches has the Assembly done nothing more that acknowledge that it will have a devastating impact on families here.
The Minister for the Communities accepts that the end of the uplift “will cause great distress and financial hardship” , but, unbelievably, the only action she has taken is to write a letter to the Westminster government asking it not to do it.
It is estimated that the ending of the uplift payment will push a further 11,000 children into poverty. That would be on top of the well over 20% of children currently living in what is identified as ‘absolute poverty’.
There can be no doubt that in addition to the mental health and emotional well-being pressures that will bring, it would also result in an increased reliance on food banks and an increasing number of families struggling to heat homes and afford winter clothing.
As the major parties here ramp up tensions and division ahead of next year’s Assembly elections the appalling levels of poverty in this community are a damning indictment of their prioritisation of tribal politics over the lives, well being and futures of the thousands of families who are treated no better than election fodder.
While Universal Credit is a consciously cruel and unworkable system that has to be scrapped, in the immediate term the Assembly must implement an extension of the mitigation measures already agreed and make permanent the £20 uplift introduced last year.
However, it is clear that only in a socialist society will child poverty, deprivation and despair be consigned to history.