Universal Credit is forcing people into ‘Dickensian’ conditions: MLA

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SDLP MLA Mark H. Durkan has reiterated his call for an end fo the controversial Univeral Credit system claiming it has imposed ‘Dickensian’ conditions’ on Derry people.

He said he is increasingly having to direct people to food banks so they can feed their families as a result of the system.

“Poverty is here, it’s happening on our doorstep. We can’t ignore it in the hope that the kinks in the scheme will miraculously work themselves out,” blasted the MLA.

“For many people this isn’t a matter of living paycheck to paycheck. UC is plunging many people here in to debt. An endless cycle of paying rent arrears and loans- ultimately being left without the money to provide the very basic necessity of feeding themselves and their families,” he said.

UC, which has replaced Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment Support Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credits, for new claimants, has wrought ‘disastrous’ consequences, he said.

Operating in Limavady for over a year, and in Derry since the start of this year, it’s led to a spike in the number of people using food banks.

“Lessons should have been learnt from the disastrous roll-out of UC in England which saw emergency food supplies delivered to over a million people in crisis last year. But these lessons were ignored and the rollout of the scheme here is beginning to spiral-with an increase in the number of people using food banks, a number which is expected to soar in the coming months and years.

“Constituency offices and advice centres have become ‘UC support services’ in the last year and that doesn’t look likely to change any time soon.

“We have people from all sections of society struggling to make ends meet as a result of UC and are having to increasingly direct people to Foyle food bank and other charities to help them survive,” he said.

He said it will only get worse when - between July 2019 and March 2023 all welfare recipients - are transferred to it.

“We cannot sit back and watch Welfare Reform destroy society to the point that men and women can’t put food on the table,” he remarked.

He attacked the DUP, Sinn Féin and the Alliance Party for voting to grant legislative consent to the NI (Welfare Reform) Bill 2015 after securing an extra £585m for the North’s welfare budget through the Fresh Start Agreement.

“While people have been subjected to Dickensian conditions as a consequence of Tory policy, these reforms were voted in by our politicians from the DUP, Sinn Féin and Alliance 70 votes to 22,” he said.