‘Horror’ of Universal Credit is here: O’Reilly

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Derry City & Strabane District Council has been told how the ‘horror stories’ surrounding the controversial Universal Credit (UC) system are now firmly on our own doorstep.

Independent Councillor Darren O’Reilly said the hardship that had long been experienced in Britain prior to the roll-out of UC in February in Derry were now an everyday reality for many in the city.

“It’s not just horror stories we’re hearing. It’s not on social media. It’s on our own doorstep,” he said.

“The reality is we have people with no money for long periods of time. We have people forced into getting loans through discretionary payments but sometimes that’s not enough,” said Colr. O’Reilly.

The Foyleside Councillor said he was aware of a victim of domestic abuse who is now reliant on a foodbank after a change of circumstances - moving home to escape an abusive partner - forced her onto the UC system.

“This week I was dealing with a young mother who had to flee a domestic violence situation and because her circumstances changed she was forced onto UC,” he said.

Because the young woman had had to furnish her new home to make it comfortable for her children she was left with no money for food.

“We had to, along with other councillors in this chamber, refer her on to the local food bank, which is stretched at this moment in time,” he said.

Independent Councillor Warren Robinson said: “We’re hearing that some claimants are waiting 16 weeks for their payments to kick in. That’s 16 weeks with a family with no income.”

SDLP Colr. Brian Tierney said: “UC has been an unmitaged disaster. The evidence is clear. UC is causing further hardship among communities. It is leading to increased levels of homelessness, debt and an increased reliance on food banks and it needs to be scrapped.”

Sinn Féin Colr. Eric McGinley said: “The Tory driven policy and the online system which underpins it is riddled with faults, complications and delays. While the mitigation measures here have went some way to alleviating some of the worst aspects of UC, it remains clear that this system is not fit for purpose.”

Independent Colr. Gary Donnelly told of a young man with autism whose family was advised he was not entitled to a home visit. When seeking his entitlements through the UC system he was asked for a bank account, passport and driving licence, despite not being able to speak.

“What we need to be doing is saying how do we deal with it. It’s a disgrace. It shouldn’t be happening,” he stated.