Last Wednesday, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Universal Credit organised an online session to discuss the impact of coronavirus on Universal Credit. At the meeting, we heard from a number of organisations and claimants about the impact of coronavirus in relation to Universal Credit, including:
- NACCOM ( No Accommodation Network);
- CPAG : Child Poverty Action Group;
- UC: Us, a group of people claiming Universal Credit in Belfast working to share experiences of the benefit and to make recommendations for change, with Dr Ruth Patrick (University of York) and Dr Mark Simpson (University of Ulster).
The organisations all spoke of issues with Universal Credit, and with the benefits system more widely, particularly during Coronavirus, and what changes they want to see happen through Parliament to support our communities.
One unavoidable concern is the huge numbers of people now reliant on benefits because of to job losses due to Covid-19 (for example 2,640,480 individuals made a UC declaration between 1/03 and 5/05 which is 5 times higher than the amount received in the same period last year.) Can the current system, which was still not fully rolled-out across the UK or all benefits claimants before Covid-19, meet the demand it is facing during this crisis in order support the huge numbers accessing it during this time?
The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) outlined the impact of Covid-19 on families, many of whom face large additional costs of raising children due to school closures. Food bills and utility bills are up and school equipment such as pens and paper which would normally be provided at school must be found out of already tight budgets. Add to this lower household incomes due to job losses or reduced hours, and many families are in serious trouble. CPAG have found 40% of the households in serious financial difficulties are those with children. Despite this, we are yet to see real Government support for families, for example ‘increasing child benefit’. This discussion lead onto a conversation on the inadequacy of the current benefits system. We welcome the increase to the Universal Credit rate, which has seen a small rate increase so it’s increasingly worrying that other benefits such as ESA, PIP, Asylum Support, Child Benefit and Pension Credit have not seen a similar uplift. I am concerned that so many of you are really struggling as a result.
The Government’s No Recourse to Public Funds policy (NRPF), introduced in 2016 as part of its creation of a “hostile environment” for migrants in the UK, came under severe criticism during the APPG. The policy prevents people “subject to immigration control” from accessing welfare benefits. Those subject to immigration control are typically: on spouse or student visas, or have limited leave granted on family or private life rules; those who have indefinite leave to remain as an adult dependent relative of someone with settled status; visa overstayers or illegal entrants. The Shadow Immigration Minister has written to the Government calling for the no recourse to public funds policy to be suspended for the duration of the lockdown measures in the UK. As she explained, people who have no recourse to public funds are in an impossible position during Covid-19 – “[t]hey either continue to work, undermining public health measures endangering themselves and others, or alternatively stay at home with no pay or support and face destitution.” Last week, the High Court ruled that the denial of welfare to some migrants under the NRPF rule is unlawful. The policy cannot be maintained. NRPF is unjust and cruel during this difficult time, and I join the calls of the for NRPF to be suspended due to coronavirus.
I support the fantastic work of the APPG on Universal Credit and the organisations which the APPG had the privilege to hear from last week. I back their calls for increased welfare support during this difficult time, and especially for an end the NRPF policy.