Benefit Cut means ‘Heat or Eat’

The Workers Party spokesperson for West Belfast, Conor Duffy, has accused Executive Ministers Deirdre Hargey and Conor Murphy of ‘a callous disregard for low paid workers and people in receipt of benefits’ as the £20 weekly uplift to Universal Credit payments comes to an end this week.

“It is simply unacceptable that the Communities Minister and the Finance Minster sit on their hands while over 135,000 local people face additional financial hardships with the withdrawal of the Universal Credit uplift introduced to help offset the additional costs of the pandemic”, he said.

“We are still in the grip of Covid and many thousands of workers are facing uncertainty and insecurity as the furlough scheme also ends. More than one third of Universal Credit claimants are working but their take home pay is not enough to cover the basics. As energy costs soar and the £20 lifeline is withdrawn many thousands of people across Northern Ireland will be faced with a ‘heat or eat’ dilemma”, Conor said

“The Workers Party has always said that the Universal Credit system was not fit for purpose. It places unacceptable burdens on people, adds to their financial pressures, adversely affects claimants’ health and wellbeing and is seen by many as deliberately punitive. Now that is going from bad to worse”

“In the past eighteen months food bank usage has more than doubled, thousands of people on low pay and those on benefits have incurred rising debts and the already shocking levels of poverty and social deprivation have been compounded”, said Conor.

“The withdrawal of the Universal Credit uplift payment will hit families, children and many single parents particularly hard. The Executive parties must act now, not simply to secure the current level of benefit payment, but to prevent further increases in food and fuel poverty, social deprivation and the resultant effects on physical and mental health”, concluded Conor.

Poverty levels a damning indictment

More than 60% of children living in poverty come from homes where at least one parent is working

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.