Leeds GATE

Working to improve the quality of life for Gypsies and Travellers

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Universal Credit – Yes, it’s still happening

Ben Chastney's picture
By Ben Chastney |  November 23, 2016 |

It seems like years ago we were awaiting the imminent introduction of Universal Credit and stressing concerns about what that might all mean for Gypsies and Travellers. Turns out it was years ago. Due to delay after delay, some areas, like Leeds, are only recently finally seeing this rolled out. Even now it is only for ‘simple claims’ so many families still won’t be affected for a long time. Evidence is piling up of ongoing problems and decisions are still being made about how Universal Credit will finally look so we need to keep talking about it.

 

It was way back in 2013 when Leeds GATE and the Traveller Movement wrote a joint report about what was then about to be introduced new benefit system. The idea, of rolling six benefits into one, was largely sensible principle but contentious in practice when we got to the details. At the time we wrote a number of recommendations to ensure that Gypsies and Travellers would be as positively included by Universal Credit and not adversely affected. Whilst the process has been delayed, few significant changes appear to have been made and our initial concerns sadly largely still stand.

 

Of particular interest were issues of child poverty and digital inclusion. We noted at the time and note now that it is not just ourselves identifying these concerns and that it is not just Gypsies and Travellers affected, but many vulnerable groups. Many people with children may find that the new processes and requirements have or will increase financial hardship. Equally, the demand to apply and manage claims almost exclusively online presents a challenge for our members, but will do so for many more.

 

These issues and many other perceived flaws to Universal Credit are still bouncing around Parliament, so there appears opportunity for changes to be made, with much of the programme still being ‘trialed’, ‘pilot’ or ‘under review’. Many organisations are doing strong work to seek improvements and we need to ensure that the Gypsy and Traveller voice is heard amongst this. Few will be more inconvenienced than our members by requirements to ‘get online’, particularly when coupled with an apparent lack of funding to support efforts to do so.

 

From what we have heard from around the country, Universal Credit is proving problematic for many; both claimants and the Government. The consistently delayed roll out perhaps a clear reflection of ongoing flaws still being ironed out. It is happening though; in more areas and for many types of claimants. There is therefore a challenge to reengage members in an issue which has understandably lost much of its urgency. Just as importantly, we need to raise awareness with politicians that the risks identified for Gypsies and Travellers remain as great now as when the benefit was first proposed. On this, we sit in solidary with so many other vulnerable groups.

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