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Agenda item

Notice of Motion Regarding "Universal Credit" - Given By Councillor Mohammad Maroof and To Be Seconded By Councillor Jim Steinke

That this Council:-

 

(a)       believes the Government must pause and fix Universal Credit - design issues, together with the Government cuts and poor implementation, have undermined the aims of the policy which, initially, had such widespread and cross-party support;

 

(b)       believes it is unacceptable that at present the Department for Work and Pension (DWP) are failing to pay one in four new claims within their six week period and that the impact this is having on claimants cannot be understated, as it is driving debt, arrears and even evictions;

 

(c)        notes that nationally half of families in arrears under Universal Credit have said that their rent arrears started after they made their claim; with 42% of families in arrears stating that this is due to the long waiting times to receive payment, support being delayed or stopped, or administrative errors in the system;

 

(d)       notes the widespread concern expressed by landlords throughout the country, including this Council, that paying claimants rather than landlords direct under Universal Credit is causing hardship to many claimants;

 

(e)       further notes that changes to benefit payments was piloted for council homes in Sheffield, and in the piloted areas there was a 43% increase in arrears, and this was for people who were not in arrears beforehand, and that, should similar results be found when Universal Credit is rolled out completely, the Council will be faced with a huge shortfall, and this in turn will have a significant effect on the Housing Revenue Account (HRA), and the Council’s ability to build and repair council homes, and notes that the Authority has already had to make millions of pounds of provision in the HRA for loss of income;

 

(f)        notes that this Administration made clear its reservations about the proposed changes in payments to the Government, but that the Government has failed to take heed of our warnings, and the Administration is now working closely with people who will be affected by the roll out and will do everything it can to support tenants and make them aware of the changes;

 

(g)       notes the high costs of calling the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and their agencies over issues concerning Universal Credit, with some callers having to pay as much as 55p a minute when seeking support, believes this is outrageous, and notes that Jobcentres are telling people to use the 0345 number helpline;

 

(h)       notes that this situation is thankfully being resolved, with the Government now committing to making calls to the Universal Credit helpline free from November; and that this change in government policy was widely hailed as a victory for the Labour Leader, the Rt. Hon. Jeremy Corbyn MP, after he successfully challenged the Rt. Hon. Theresa May MP on the issue at last week’s Prime Minister’s Questions;

 

(i)         backs those calling on the Government to put on hold the national roll-out of Universal Credit, and notes the symbolic vote in Parliament recently where MPs backed a pause, after Conservative MPs were told to abstain, which the opposition won by 299 votes to 0; and, whilst noting that the outcome is not binding, believes the Government must “act on the clearly expressed will of Parliament”, as stated by the Speaker of the House of Commons, and halt its roll out;

 

(j)         contends that the implementation of Universal Credit is causing havoc and notes that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Rt. Hon. David Gauke MP, is asking claimants to visit their local job centre, whilst at the very same time his Department is shutting nearly 70 job centres;

 

(k)        notes that Eastern Avenue Jobcentre is due to close imminently, despite the fact the service is currently receiving a spike in activity due to the failed implementation of Universal Credit, and that the DWP is yet to publish a cost benefit analysis for this decision, despite the fact they claim the decision is based solely on the need to make savings;

 

(l)         notes that, in answer to questions raised in Parliament by Louise Haigh MP, the Government admitted that they do not know whether the closure of Eastern Avenue Job Centre will save any money;

 

(m)      reaffirms that Eastern Avenue Job Centre should be retained and backs the statement from Council Leader, Councillor Julie Dore, in June 2017 that the closure will have “a dreadful impact on how vital employment support is provided locally” and that “the initial decision has been made without a proper impact assessment and without a clear picture of how claimants will be affected, including extremely vulnerable claimants who may have disabilities or mental health problems”;

 

(n)       notes that Jobcentres are often not able to provide the support that is required for claimants and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) are unlikely to be able to cope with an increased demand;

 

(o)       believes that the CAB play an essential role in providing support and advice to a great many people but that resources are becoming increasingly stretched; and that government cuts to local authorities, coupled with cuts to the welfare state since 2010, have created a “perfect storm” whereby advice agencies are unable to cope with demand;

 

(p)       believes that benefit claimants are coming under increasing pressure and that, even before the roll out of Universal Credit, the benefit freeze combined with the predicted rise in inflation could set some low-income households back £300 next year, as warned by the Joseph Roundtree Foundation (JRF);

 

(q)       further notes that the Resolution Foundation says loss of income due to benefit freezes would be £225 for a single parent in work, and backs the calls from the Director of the JRF that the Chancellor, the Rt. Hon. Philip Hammond MP, should use his upcoming Budget to "ease the squeeze on low and middle income families not make it worse" but that “Government policy is currently set to do the opposite, freezing the value of crucial support that 11 million families receive”; and

 

(r)        notes that with inflation approaching 3%, families are on course for the biggest real-terms cut in the value of their benefits for decades and calls on the Government to end what this Council believes to be their callous and ideologically driven programme of austerity which is causing such damage to so many.

 

Minutes:

6.1

It was moved by Councillor Mohammad Maroof, and seconded by Councillor Jim Steinke, that this Council:-

 

 

 

(a)       believes the Government must pause and fix Universal Credit - design issues, together with the Government cuts and poor implementation, have undermined the aims of the policy which, initially, had such widespread and cross-party support;

 

(b)       believes it is unacceptable that at present the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are failing to pay one in four new claims within their six week period and that the impact this is having on claimants cannot be understated, as it is driving debt, arrears and even evictions;

 

(c)        notes that nationally half of families in arrears under Universal Credit have said that their rent arrears started after they made their claim; with 42% of families in arrears stating that this is due to the long waiting times to receive payment, support being delayed or stopped, or administrative errors in the system;

 

(d)       notes the widespread concern expressed by landlords throughout the country, including this Council, that paying claimants rather than landlords direct under Universal Credit is causing hardship to many claimants;

 

(e)       further notes that changes to benefit payments was piloted for council homes in Sheffield, and in the piloted areas there was a 43% increase in arrears, and this was for people who were not in arrears beforehand, and that, should similar results be found when Universal Credit is rolled out completely, the Council will be faced with a huge shortfall, and this in turn will have a significant effect on the Housing Revenue Account (HRA), and the Council’s ability to build and repair council homes, and notes that the Authority has already had to make millions of pounds of provision in the HRA for loss of income;

 

(f)        notes that this Administration made clear its reservations about the proposed changes in payments to the Government, but that the Government has failed to take heed of our warnings, and the Administration is now working closely with people who will be affected by the roll out and will do everything it can to support tenants and make them aware of the changes;

 

(g)       notes the high costs of calling the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and their agencies over issues concerning Universal Credit, with some callers having to pay as much as 55p a minute when seeking support, believes this is outrageous, and notes that Jobcentres are telling people to use the 0345 number helpline;

 

(h)       notes that this situation is thankfully being resolved, with the Government now committing to making calls to the Universal Credit helpline free from November; and that this change in government policy was widely hailed as a victory for the Labour Leader, the Rt. Hon. Jeremy Corbyn MP, after he successfully challenged the Rt. Hon. Theresa May MP on the issue at last week’s Prime Minister’s Questions;

 

(i)         backs those calling on the Government to put on hold the national roll-out of Universal Credit, and notes the symbolic vote in Parliament recently where MPs backed a pause, after Conservative MPs were told to abstain, which the opposition won by 299 votes to 0; and, whilst noting that the outcome is not binding, believes the Government must “act on the clearly expressed will of Parliament”, as stated by the Speaker of the House of Commons, and halt its roll out;

 

(j)         contends that the implementation of Universal Credit is causing havoc and notes that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Rt. Hon. David Gauke MP, is asking claimants to visit their local job centre, whilst at the very same time his Department is shutting nearly 70 job centres;

 

(k)        notes that Eastern Avenue Jobcentre is due to close imminently, despite the fact the service is currently receiving a spike in activity due to the failed implementation of Universal Credit, and that the DWP is yet to publish a cost benefit analysis for this decision, despite the fact they claim the decision is based solely on the need to make savings;

 

(l)         notes that, in answer to questions raised in Parliament by Louise Haigh MP, the Government admitted that they do not know whether the closure of Eastern Avenue Job Centre will save any money;

 

(m)      reaffirms that Eastern Avenue Job Centre should be retained and backs the statement from Council Leader, Councillor Julie Dore, in June 2017 that the closure will have “a dreadful impact on how vital employment support is provided locally” and that “the initial decision has been made without a proper impact assessment and without a clear picture of how claimants will be affected, including extremely vulnerable claimants who may have disabilities or mental health problems”;

 

(n)       notes that Jobcentres are often not able to provide the support that is required for claimants and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) are unlikely to be able to cope with an increased demand;

 

(o)       believes that the CAB play an essential role in providing support and advice to a great many people but that resources are becoming increasingly stretched; and that government cuts to local authorities, coupled with cuts to the welfare state since 2010, have created a “perfect storm” whereby advice agencies are unable to cope with demand;

 

(p)       believes that benefit claimants are coming under increasing pressure and that, even before the roll out of Universal Credit, the benefit freeze combined with the predicted rise in inflation could set some low-income households back £300 next year, as warned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF);

 

(q)       further notes that the Resolution Foundation says loss of income due to benefit freezes would be £225 for a single parent in work, and backs the calls from the Director of the JRF that the Chancellor, the Rt. Hon. Philip Hammond MP, should use his upcoming Budget to "ease the squeeze on low and middle income families not make it worse" but that “Government policy is currently set to do the opposite, freezing the value of crucial support that 11 million families receive”; and

 

(r)        notes that with inflation approaching 3%, families are on course for the biggest real-terms cut in the value of their benefits for decades and calls on the Government to end what this Council believes to be their callous and ideologically driven programme of austerity which is causing such damage to so many.

 

 

6.2

Whereupon, it was moved by Councillor Sue Auckland, and seconded by Councillor Joe Otten, as an amendment, that the Motion now submitted be amended by the deletion of all the words after the words “That this Council” and the addition of the following words:-

 

 

 

(a)       calls for the Government to pause the planned accelerated roll-out of Universal Credit until problems with implementation can be addressed through the following measures:-

 

 

 

(i)      removing the seven waiting days at the start of a claim, to reduce the amount of time people have to wait for their first payment;

 

(ii)     monitoring the impact of payment one month in arrears, and changing it if this results in rising debt and destitution;

 

(iii)    making sure everyone moving to Universal Credit is told they can get an Advance Payment to help them while they wait for their first payment;

 

(iv)    introducing an online system so people can book their initial Jobcentre appointments online rather than having to call the Universal Credit helpline;

 

(v)     allowing people to adjust to Universal Credit by offering everyone options in how they would like the benefit to be paid; and

 

(vi)    putting in place a comprehensive support package before Universal Credit roll-out accelerates, to make sure people get advice to manage their money and deal with any complications in the application process;

 

 

 

(b)       notes that:-

 

 

 

(i)      over a third (39%) of people are waiting more than the 6 weeks it should take to receive their first payment;

 

(ii)     in some pilot areas, the average waiting time is as high as 12 weeks;

 

(iii)    just over 1 in 10 (11%) are waiting over 10 weeks without the benefit; and

 

(iv)    3 in 5 (57%) are having to borrow money while waiting for their first payment; and

 

 

 

(c)        reiterates its support for more substantial reform of Universal Credit, including:-

 

 

 

(i)      reversing the Government’s cuts to the amount claimants can earn (the “work allowance”) before their benefits are reduced;

 

(ii)     introducing a second work allowance, allowing both members of a couple to work without losing their benefits;

 

(iii)    restoring the first child premium for new claimants;

 

(iv)    abandoning the restriction of benefits to just two children; and

 

(v)     ending the freeze on working-age benefits.

 

 

6.3

It was then moved by the Deputy Lord Mayor (Councillor Magid Magid), and seconded by Councillor Douglas Johnson, as an amendment, that the Motion now submitted be amended by the addition of a new paragraph (s) as follows:-

 

 

 

(s)         believes it is not enough just to ‘note’ national policy issues,  and therefore asks the Administration to draw up an action plan to protect Sheffield’s citizens from the full roll-out of Universal Credit as well as it can.

 

 

6.4

It was then moved by Councillor Zahira Naz, and seconded by Councillor Lisa Banes, as an amendment, that the Motion now submitted be amended by the addition of new paragraphs (s) to (u) as follows:-

 

 

 

(s)        notes that on Monday 30 October, The Daily Telegraph stated that Conservative Ministers are reportedly preparing for a major U-turn on the rollout of Universal Credit in the Budget by reducing the controversial six-week wait to four weeks for the first payment to claimants;

 

(t)         believes that if such a move does indeed take place, it will be due to the weeks of sustained pressure on the Government by the Labour Party and charities, who warned the Government that the implementation of Universal Credit, due to be accelerated this month, is pushing recipients into poverty, arrears and a reliance on food banks; and

 

(u)       believes, however, that a four week wait is still far too long for many and that the current proposals for Universal Credit should be ceased immediately until further consideration is given to changes, with national measures implemented to mitigate any problem which may arise with the full rollout of Universal Credit.

 

 

6.5

After contributions from other Members, and following a right of reply from Councillor Mohammad Maroof, the amendment moved by Councillor Sue Auckland was put to the vote and negatived.

 

 

6.6

The amendment moved by the Deputy Lord Mayor (Councillor Magid Magid) was then put to the vote and was also negatived.

 

 

6.7

The amendment moved by Councillor Zahira Naz was then put to the vote and was carried.

 

 

6.7.1

(NOTE: The Deputy Lord Mayor (Councillor Magid Magid) and Councillors Douglas Johnson, Robert Murphy and Alison Teal voted for paragraph (u) of the amendment, and abstained from voting on paragraphs (s) and (t) of the amendment, and asked for this to be recorded.)

 

 

6.8

The original Motion, as amended, was then put as a Substantive Motion in the following form and carried:-

 

 

 

RESOLVED: That this Council:-

 

 

 

(a)       believes the Government must pause and fix Universal Credit - design issues, together with the Government cuts and poor implementation, have undermined the aims of the policy which, initially, had such widespread and cross-party support;

 

(b)       believes it is unacceptable that at present the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are failing to pay one in four new claims within their six week period and that the impact this is having on claimants cannot be understated, as it is driving debt, arrears and even evictions;

 

(c)        notes that nationally half of families in arrears under Universal Credit have said that their rent arrears started after they made their claim; with 42% of families in arrears stating that this is due to the long waiting times to receive payment, support being delayed or stopped, or administrative errors in the system;

 

(d)       notes the widespread concern expressed by landlords throughout the country, including this Council, that paying claimants rather than landlords direct under Universal Credit is causing hardship to many claimants;

 

(e)       further notes that changes to benefit payments was piloted for council homes in Sheffield, and in the piloted areas there was a 43% increase in arrears, and this was for people who were not in arrears beforehand, and that, should similar results be found when Universal Credit is rolled out completely, the Council will be faced with a huge shortfall, and this in turn will have a significant effect on the Housing Revenue Account (HRA), and the Council’s ability to build and repair council homes, and notes that the Authority has already had to make millions of pounds of provision in the HRA for loss of income;

 

(f)        notes that this Administration made clear its reservations about the proposed changes in payments to the Government, but that the Government has failed to take heed of our warnings, and the Administration is now working closely with people who will be affected by the roll out and will do everything it can to support tenants and make them aware of the changes;

 

(g)       notes the high costs of calling the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and their agencies over issues concerning Universal Credit, with some callers having to pay as much as 55p a minute when seeking support, believes this is outrageous, and notes that Jobcentres are telling people to use the 0345 number helpline;

 

(h)       notes that this situation is thankfully being resolved, with the Government now committing to making calls to the Universal Credit helpline free from November; and that this change in government policy was widely hailed as a victory for the Labour Leader, the Rt. Hon. Jeremy Corbyn MP, after he successfully challenged the Rt. Hon. Theresa May MP on the issue at last week’s Prime Minister’s Questions;

 

(i)         backs those calling on the Government to put on hold the national roll-out of Universal Credit, and notes the symbolic vote in Parliament recently where MPs backed a pause, after Conservative MPs were told to abstain, which the opposition won by 299 votes to 0; and, whilst noting that the outcome is not binding, believes the Government must “act on the clearly expressed will of Parliament”, as stated by the Speaker of the House of Commons, and halt its roll out;

 

(j)         contends that the implementation of Universal Credit is causing havoc and notes that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Rt. Hon. David Gauke MP, is asking claimants to visit their local job centre, whilst at the very same time his Department is shutting nearly 70 job centres;

 

(k)        notes that Eastern Avenue Jobcentre is due to close imminently, despite the fact the service is currently receiving a spike in activity due to the failed implementation of Universal Credit, and that the DWP is yet to publish a cost benefit analysis for this decision, despite the fact they claim the decision is based solely on the need to make savings;

 

(l)         notes that, in answer to questions raised in Parliament by Louise Haigh MP, the Government admitted that they do not know whether the closure of Eastern Avenue Job Centre will save any money;

 

(m)      reaffirms that Eastern Avenue Job Centre should be retained and backs the statement from Council Leader, Councillor Julie Dore, in June 2017 that the closure will have “a dreadful impact on how vital employment support is provided locally” and that “the initial decision has been made without a proper impact assessment and without a clear picture of how claimants will be affected, including extremely vulnerable claimants who may have disabilities or mental health problems”;

 

(n)       notes that Jobcentres are often not able to provide the support that is required for claimants and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) are unlikely to be able to cope with an increased demand;

 

(o)       believes that the CAB play an essential role in providing support and advice to a great many people but that resources are becoming increasingly stretched; and that government cuts to local authorities, coupled with cuts to the welfare state since 2010, have created a “perfect storm” whereby advice agencies are unable to cope with demand;

 

(p)       believes that benefit claimants are coming under increasing pressure and that, even before the roll out of Universal Credit, the benefit freeze combined with the predicted rise in inflation could set some low-income households back £300 next year, as warned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF);

 

(q)       further notes that the Resolution Foundation says loss of income due to benefit freezes would be £225 for a single parent in work, and backs the calls from the Director of the JRF that the Chancellor, the Rt. Hon. Philip Hammond MP, should use his upcoming Budget to "ease the squeeze on low and middle income families not make it worse" but that “Government policy is currently set to do the opposite, freezing the value of crucial support that 11 million families receive”;

 

(r)        notes that with inflation approaching 3%, families are on course for the biggest real-terms cut in the value of their benefits for decades and calls on the Government to end what this Council believes to be their callous and ideologically driven programme of austerity which is causing such damage to so many;

 

(s)        notes that on Monday 30 October, The Daily Telegraph stated that Conservative Ministers are reportedly preparing for a major U-turn on the rollout of Universal Credit in the Budget by reducing the controversial six-week wait to four weeks for the first payment to claimants;

 

(t)         believes that if such a move does indeed take place, it will be due to the weeks of sustained pressure on the Government by the Labour Party and charities, who warned the Government that the implementation of Universal Credit, due to be accelerated this month, is pushing recipients into poverty, arrears and a reliance on food banks; and

 

(u)       believes, however, that a four week wait is still far too long for many and that the current proposals for Universal Credit should be ceased immediately until further consideration is given to changes, with national measures implemented to mitigate any problem which may arise with the full rollout of Universal Credit.

 

 

 

6.8.1

(NOTE: 1. Councillors Andy Nash, Bob Pullin, Richard Shaw, Adam Hanrahan, Joe Otten, Colin Ross, Martin Smith, Roger Davison, Shaffaq Mohammed, Paul Scriven, Sue Alston, Andrew Sangar, Ian Auckland, Sue Auckland, Steve Ayris, David Baker, Penny Baker and Vickie Priestley voted for paragraphs (a) to (s) and (u) of the Substantive Motion, and voted against paragraph (t) of the Motion, and asked for this to be recorded; and

 

 

 

2. The Deputy Lord Mayor (Councillor Magid Magid) and Councillors Douglas Johnson, Robert Murphy and Alison Teal voted for paragraphs (a) to (r) and (u) of the Substantive Motion, and abstained from voting on paragraphs (s) and (t) of the Motion, and asked for this to be recorded.)