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Ask 6: In the name of justice and compassion: we must end the freeze

SFHA, together with its sister UK housing federations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, is calling for six changes to be made to Universal Credit in order to improve the whole system for tenants and housing associations. SFHA has invited six guest bloggers to write about one of the #SixAsks. Today, Peter Kelly, Director of the Poverty Alliance, details why the benefits freeze must be ended. 

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Alarming figures released last week show that one million people in Scotland are now locked in poverty. Poverty on this scale in modern country like ours can be difficult to comprehend. What it means is that more people face a daily struggle to get by: for some people this may mean they are not sure how they will feed their family, for others it may mean prioritising some bills over others and getting into debt. Families will cut back wherever they can, which may mean children missing out on activities in school.

It’s simply not right that so many people in our wealthy country face a struggle to get by. Of course, it doesn’t need to be this way. One of the things that has driven the increase in poverty, particularly in recent years, has been the freeze on most working age benefits.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation the current freeze, which was introduced in the summer of 2015, had already swept 200,000 more children across Britain into poverty by 2018. It is expected that this number will increase to 400,000.

The freeze on benefits has been a key part of the UK Government’s austerity programme since 2010. Whilst the use of sanctions or the introduction of Universal Credit has been justified on the basis of ‘encouraging’ or supporting people back into work, there is no such rationale for the freeze on benefits. Arbitrarily cutting incomes does not encourage people into work, it simply makes life more difficult.

That’s why the freeze needs to come to an immediate end. The UK Government’s planned end for the freeze is April 2020. This is the least that can be done. We need to look at the adequacy of benefits. For too many people, even when the freeze ends, their incomes will still be insufficient to meet basic needs.

We all want to live in a society where we care for each other. To make this a reality, we need to start redesigning our social security system to reflect that care. Ending the freeze and ensuring benefits are linked to the real cost of living would be a good place to start.

Six Asks:

1. End to the five-week wait for payment. Claimants should be able to get a payment in the middle of this period and there should be greater flexibility on payment frequency for all

2. More data sharing between DWP and social landlords and the restoration of implicit consent (when a claimant allows a person or organisation to help with their Universal Credit claim) will mean landlords can better support tenants and prevent problems. This is key to the success of managed migration.

3. Where benefit is paid direct to the landlord, we need a system that is fit for purpose, with the landlord receiving the payment on the same cycle as the tenant

4. Increased funding for support and advice to make sure people do not miss out on entitlement, including allowing backdating for more claims

5. Making sure that work pays for everyone by matching monthly assessments to earnings within that period, improving work allowances and reducing the taper

6. Restore inflation linked uprating to working age benefits from April 2020