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Are we ready for Universal Credit?

Ben Chastney's picture
By Ben Chastney |  March 8, 2013 |

Ben ChastneyBen Chastney, Advocacy Worker at Leeds GATE, has some thoughts about the new Universal Credit and other welfare changes

As we are all now hearing, there are going to be some big changes to benefits over the next year or so.  Sadly it is not straightforward situation, with different benefits changing in different ways at different times. To get our heads around this and to increase awareness of the likely impact of such proposed changes for Gypsies and Travellers, Leeds GATE and ITMB have held roundtable discussions, including, amongst many others, the Department of Work and Pensions and Council Benefits Service.

There is so much information to take in and a lot of concerns to express, not least the possibility that people’s benefits might be capped or changed. Stay tuned for our report coming soon which will hopefully make some of these changes clearer.  In the meantime, there is one important issue we need to be aware of, regarding the support which will be needed to ensure Gypsies and Travellers are prepared for these various benefit changes as and when they are introduced.

Put aside the potential financial impact of these reforms, though of course a big problem, there are going to be practical obstacles which will disproportionately affect the Gypsy and Traveller community.  For example, do you have a bank account with a debit or credit card, i.e. not a Post Office Card Account?  Can you get one if not?  Could you set up a payment plan to ensure benefits being paid to you will be used to meet Council or landlord bills?  Can you regularly get online to apply for and keep a check on your benefits?  Would you be prepared to manage all your benefits being paid in one monthly sum?

The bad news is that the Government’s approach will not be to provide exemptions to those individuals and groups that might answer no to any of these questions. The good news is that they do propose to support such people into getting prepared, in getting them a bank account or getting them online. The big question now is how will this assistance be provided?  There is no doubt that such changes will create further demand on the advice and support work being carried out by groups working with Gypsies and Travellers, whether Leeds GATE or equivalent groups across the country.

Over the coming year, we will need to clearly communicate what changes are coming in, work out how Gypsies and Travellers might be affected as well as prepare and respond to all this. Pleasingly the DWP appear to recognise that groups like GATE have been, and will be, best placed to provide much of this support.  The challenge now will be to ensure that such recognition is met by real backing, real money.

How will Gypsies and Travellers cope with these changes if the agencies who support them are overstretched? Similarly and perhaps worse, how will Gypsies and Travellers cope who don’t have any access to any such group?  The Government need to answer these questions as they think about introducing these reforms and we all need to be asking this of them.

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