My name is Jennifer Jones, I am a disabled single Mum from Sheffield. I’ve been an activist with Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) for several years, and ever since I’ve been involved they have been warning about Universal Credit. In fact, DPAC had been warning about the dangers of Universal Credit as far back as 2010, but it was very hard to get people in power to listen in its early days.
I joined the Labour Party not long after Corbyn was elected leader, and have been campaigning to raise awareness about Universal Credit from the beginning. I began by doing a talk at my Constituency Labour Party, Sheffield Heeley.
An all-in-one benefit that suits claimants of every type: in work, out of work or self-employed. It sounded like a great idea on paper to a lot of people, and the Tories sold it as such. That all changed when the roll out began.
We heard more and more reports of how this online system was failing people. Ken Loache’s I Daniel Blake gave people an insight into the system’s grisly reality, but was dismissed by the Tories as lefty propaganda.
Slowly but surely whistleblowers from advice centres all over the country began speaking the truth. The idea that Universal Credit was a panacea, the welfare system to rival all welfare systems, was falling and costing Britain billions in the process.
Right from the start many claimants couldn’t access the online only claim system for a variety of reasons. The initial waiting period, which was longer than 5 weeks, was leaving claimants and families going hungry.
Last year, when Universal Credit was rolled out an entire council estate in the North of England went into rent arrears in the space of one month, with most of the tenants never having been in debt with rent payment before.
All over Britain we’ve seen people being evicted or otherwise losing their homes due to the financial fallout from the scheme. We’ve seen children going to school hungry, eating toilet roll to stop their tummies rumbling.
We’ve seen otherwise well people pushed into mental ill health and emotional anguish. And we’ve seen a frightening increase in both poverty-related crime, as people are so overwhelmed with desperation, and women forced into sex work in order to keep their electric meters running.
Most alarming in all this has been the impact on our disabled community, the brown envelope intrusion, the pressure to meet targets, cope with the complex claim system under threat of sanctions. We have denied the PIP/ESA support that is our right, causing an increase in people feeling so trapped, so terrified and so bereft of any hope that they’ve taken their own lives.
As I write this I remember the names of our comrades we’ve lost in the fight along the way, forever inscribed on our hearts: Jodey, Stephen, Lola, Ivan, and 130,000 more besides.
In October 2018, all Sheffield Labour MPs and council leaders stood on the townhall steps and pledged to support the campaign to stop and scrap Universal Credit. Today, it has been announced as Labour Party policy.
Jeremy Corbyn is right to do this, he has listened where the Tories have ignored, lied or attempted to manipulate public opinion. We can finally say that Universal Credit will be stopped and scrapped under a Labour government.
I am proud that it was my CLP’s motion that went to Labour Party conference, via the women’s conference, and contributed to this new policy. It will not only change lives it will save lives.
It means change for women. It means change for lone parents. It means change for disabled people. It means change for workers on a low income. And it means change for our children.
Above all, now more than ever we must get out there and collectively fight alongside our trade unions and our MPs for a Corbyn-led Labour government. It’s never been more important.
We need a welfare system that supports claimants, each according to our needs, not a ‘one size fits all’ package that works only for the few. This is no pipe dream, together we will ensure that will become our reality.
With Corbyn in Number 10, the horrors of Universal Credit, punitive sanctions and deceitful work capability assessments will become a thing of the past. We trust that those responsible will be held to account.