These are the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, speaking at the TUC conference this week. Taking questions following his speech, Welby said that "Universal Credit has left too many people worse off, putting them at risk of hunger, death, rent arrears and foodbanks.”

This comes after publication of a Resolution Foundation report that calls on government to make critical changes to its management of Universal Credit before pressing ahead with the ‘managed migration’ phase. In this phase around two million working families and disabled people in receipt of Tax Credits and Employment Support Allowance will be transferred across to Universal Credit.

The Resolution Foundation urges government to “bear the risk of further teething troubles, rather than the individual claimants." In areas in which Universal Credit has already been rolled out, foodbank use and rent arrears have increased markedly due to systemic problems with the benefit. The Department of Work and Pensions has produced figures stating that 84% of claimants were paid on time, but this of course means that one in six were not and are experiencing real hardship. For people living on a financial knife-edge, any reduction in income can be enough to push them over the edge.

Copper change in two jars

A recent Huffington Post UK article tells the story of Mark Barber, a disabled landscape gardener who took his own life following a PIP assessment that cut his payments by £20 a week. A series of post-it notes found in Barber’s flat reveal the depth of his financial situation and mental turmoil. One note describes how his washing machine was held together by sellotape and another describes how a call to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to try and sort out his benefit cut cost him £12. The most telling of the notes simply says “I am officially begging you please help me!”

Despite the plight of the tens of thousands of people like Mark forced into acute hardship by its welfare reform agenda, the government continues to press ahead regardless of the evidence and advice from Parliamentarians of all parties, as well as charities and disability organisations, preferring to “test and learn,” rather than halt and review.

Never let it be forgotten that the subjects of the Universal Credit policy experiment, on whom the testing and learning process relies, are for the most part disadvantaged and often vulnerable people, for whom systemic failure is not a statistical blip but, for those like Mark Barber, a matter of life and death.

- Andy Shipley, Aspire's Policy Manager

Photo credit: Andrew Dunsmore/Picture Partnership/Lambeth Palace

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