Call for Universal Credit to be scrapped months prior to roll-out

SDLP Councillor Tina Gardiner.
SDLP Councillor Tina Gardiner.

Three months before Universal Credit (UC) is rolled out in Derry and Strabane, members of Derry City and Strabane District Council have called for its scrappage, amid claims it will lead to a 200 per cent hike in food bank usage across the district.

A motion tabled by SDLP Councillor Tina Gardiner, which called for an immediate halt to the roll-out of the controversial catch-all benefit which will amalgamate Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Working Tax Credit, when it is introduced here on January 17, 2017, was supported by the SDLP, Sinn Féin and republican and nationalist independents at the council’s monthly meeting on Thursday.

Unionist councillors abstained from voting on Colr. Gardiner’s motion, which called on “all political parties to work to deliver a different system that is fair, practical and compassionate”.

Speaking after her motion was backed on Thursday evening, Colr. Gardiner said: “The new Universal Credit which has been imposed in Limavady and due to be imposed in Derry in January will cause severe financial hardship for many people. The Universal credit replaces a range of other benefits including Working Tax Credit.

“A major problem is that moving to the Universal Credit means that people get no benefit payment at all for a minimum of six weeks. We can already see from where Universal Credit has been imposed in Britain, it has caused homelessness, debt and food shortages for many families who have had to seek charitable help from food banks etc.”

During the debate, Independent Councillor Darren O’Reilly, told colleagues that he had recently contacted a Labour Party representative who sits on the Mental Health Committee of a local council in Tyneside in the North East of England to try to learn more about the impact of Universal Credit in an area where it has already been implemented.

Colr. O’Reilly said his English counterpart reported a “dramatic increase” in the use of mental health services and a 200 per cent increase in food bank and Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB) usage.

He said he was told that in the greater Newcastle area landlords were “putting people to the streets “ and that people were waiting up to 13 weeks rather than six weeks for income under the new regime. Colr. O’Reilly called on people to “oppose [UC] on the streets in a peaceful fashion”.

Colr. Garinder said: “Theresa May is arguing that the change in benefits is getting people back to work. That argument does not work in regions such as Derry and Strabane which have very high unemployment and low levels of job opportunity.”