UNIVERSAL CREDIT MEANS MORE PEOPLE IN CRISIS AND USING FOODBANKS IN SOUTHWARK THAN EVER BEFORE / LAMBETH COUNCIL MOTION ON UNIVERSAL CREDIT

The introduction of Universal Credit has seen more people in crisis and using food banks in Southwark than ever before, say the borough council.

Rough sleeping has increased exponentially – the annual count, which took place in Southwark last month, found 42 people sleeping on the streets, an increase of 24 per cent from last year alone and a huge increase over the past decade.

Southwark works with a wide range of partners and the two leading specialists –Shelter as a critical friend, integral to its service, and with St Mungo’s working on the front line of outreach work to support those in the most desperate situations.

Cllr Stephanie Cryan, deputy leader and cabinet member for housing at Southwark council, said: “I am genuinely saddened by the figures we are seeing.

“How can it be, in 2018, that people still end up sleeping on the streets?  “Despite historically having the third-highest number of homelessness applications, Southwark council are within the top 30 councils for prevention nationally.

“While there is still so much work to do, and so far to go, the council are paving the way to the best ways to tackle the crisis. “It is vital that we share what we know to support more people across the UK.”

In a press release Southwark say they have eliminated the use of bed and breakfast for families by preventing homelessness in the first place, using more appropriate accommodation further afield, but without dispensing the authority’s responsibilities to the families, and also by working with Solace, Women’s Aid to directly support those affected by domestic abuse.

“Homelessness manifests itself in many ways with specific factors leading to people losing their homes – from families struggling on the breadline, overcrowding and those who find themselves battling drink or drugs addictions.

“This time of year sees a spike in family breakdown, with most divorces filed for in January” the press release adds.

The council are currently working on a specific domestic abuse policy in order to lead on the issue when the Homelessness Reduction Act comes into effect nationally on April 3rd this year.

LAMBETH COUNCIL MOTION ON UNIVERSAL CREDIT

A proposed  addendum to a Lambeth council motion on Universal Credit at its full meeting next Wednesday says the council should:

Ensure that no tenant is evicted and classed as ‘intentionally homeless’ due to rent arrears caused by Universal Credit errors.

Provide comprehensive advice and support to those who have faced benefit delays or errors as a result of Universal Credit.

Green party Cllr Scott Ainslie, who is moving the addendum told News From Crystal Palace: “The motion around Universal Credit arose because of failure to roll-out Universal Credit effectively and its unfair repercussions.

“Because landlords are legally granted eviction notices when someone has fallen into rent arrears, people risk losing their home if their benefit is delayed and they are late paying rent. 

“This was exemplified by the case of Clavia Chambers who spoke in a delegation to the full council meeting in October.

“Sixteen JobCentres shutting in six months in London does not help people seek individualised advice when they are going from unemployment to occasional work and having their benefits delayed.

“Lambeth Council are able to choose not to treat those whose Universal Credit is delayed as “intentionally homeless” (Housing Act 1996 Part VII Section 183)  and the Green position is that the local authority can be reasonably expected to investigate those cases where this occurs, especially when errors have occurred in its own calculations.”

Further reading: Background to the Clavia Chambers story can be found on the Brixton Buzz website.

The full Labour motion reads as follows:

Council notes:

 That the Labour administration in Lambeth and Labour councils across the country have campaigned against Tory government cuts to benefits since 2010.

 That the full roll-out of Universal Credit full service began in December 2017, and will be completed across the borough in February for those residents who experience a change in circumstances.

 That when fully implemented, the council estimates that the total number of affected residents is likely to be over 40,000.

 That the roll-out is happening at the same time as the Government has decided to close the Job Centres in Brixton and Clapham.

Council further notes:

 That Lambeth council’s welfare rights service identified significant flaws in the pilots of Universal Credit in parts of Lambeth that were published in its submission of evidence to the Department for Work and Pensions select committee in October 2017

 That this included that residents had experienced months of delays when trying to claim Universal Credit and when trying to resolve issues with underpayments caused by poor assessments.

 That residents have faced additional stress and financial problems, including significant rent arrears. 85 per cent of tenants claiming Universal Credit were in arrears, while the figure for tenants who aren’t claiming Universal Credit is around 25pc (reflecting similar increases seen in other parts of the country).

 That the impact on resources from local advice services, charities and to local and health authorities has been considerable in terms of increased time trying to resolve the problems and increased pressure on services resulting from the detrimental impact on claimant’s health. The services have also found increasing numbers of people presenting in crisis with no income to meet their essential needs.

 That the leader of the council wrote to the Chancellor in November presenting this evidence and requesting a pause in the roll-out of Universal Credit – but has not received a response and the government has failed to act.

Council believes:

 That while appreciating the principle of simplifying the benefits system to help claimants, the actual design of the current system and implementation of Universal credit has been a disaster.

 That the purpose of piloting such a complex scheme should be to learn from the evidence and improve it, but the government has completely failed to listen to examples presented from across the country, including from Lambeth

 That the government should pause the roll-out of universal credit until it has fixed the significant problems that are causing misery for thousands of people across the country

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