Trade union activists have warned that a grass roots movement is needed in order to get Universal Credit reforms overturned.
Derry Trades Union were joined by community and political campaign groups, and various unions including NIPSA, Unison and Aegis, at a public rally outside the Guildhall on Wednesday as the roll out of Universal Credit began on Derry’s cityside.
Liam Gallagher, Secretary of Derry Trades Union Council, said the impact of Universal Credit locally will be “huge, particularly on the working poor who depend upon child tax credit.”.
He said: “The trade union movement and the community groups are marking today by laying down a benchmark that we will continue to lobby politicians, continue to highlight the plight of the poor and those who most need help in our area. The solution to the poverty and the unemployment we have in this city is to bring decent jobs. We have the highest rate of unemployment within the UK; we have the highest rate of social deprivation and poverty in certain areas.”
Former People Before Profit MLA, Eamonn McCann, called for the roll out of Universal Credit to be delayed here, as it has been in Britain, saying: “The reason for the delay is that at the moment anybody moved on to UC is missing out on two weeks of Housing Benefit run-on. The change was agreed by Westminster to reduce the number of tenants falling into deep arrears and facing the possibility of eviction. This means that people in Derry, Limavady and Strabane are being pushed into a level of debt that even the Tories agree is too much.”
Mr McCann described as “astonishing” the increase in the number of children in the Western Trust in need of help which they are not receiving, including an increase of 18 per cent in the past year in the number of children in need of support but who have not been allocated a social worker. “There should be far more emphasis on these issues than on some of the issues paralysing Stormont,” he said.
Ruaidhri O Sandair from NIPSA said that Universal Credit actually left many people in work less well off due to changes in tax credits.
He said that the blame for welfare cuts “lies squarely at the door of the politicians who signed up to Fresh Start.
“They will tell you of mitigations, but these are time-bound, they will say there is no bedroom tax in Northern Ireland- well tell that to the 50 odd families out of pocket because of the bedroom tax; the disgraceful PIP reassessment process has been well highlighted with an important victory in the courts last week.”