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Universal Credit reform open letter signed by York lecturer and York Central MP

Nouse talks to Peter Dwyer, York Social Policy lecturer, and Rachael Maskell, York Central MP, about why they signed the letter

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University of York Social Policy lecturer, Peter Dwyer, is among 12 of the UK’s top lecturers who have signed an open letter demanding the government to bring in urgent universal credit reforms.

The letter, which was sent to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, called for cuts to children’s universal credit to be axed from the budget and for the waiting period to be reduced from the current five weeks. The lecturers signatures are accompanied by those of 78 Labour MPs and representatives from the Unison, Unite, Usdaw and GMB unions, and local branches of food banks and Citizens Advice.

The letter states “it is a basic minimum that everyone in our country should be able to feed them-selves without needing emergency food parcels” but that “according to the Trussell Trust, low income, benefit delays and changes are the main reasons people need emergency food”. Citing the fact that food bank usage is rising year on year and that“more than a third of emergency food parcels go to children” it argues that “the Government should be doing more to help them and their families”.

Specifically, the letter argues for “removing the two-child limit in Universal Credit” and reducing the waiting time for Universal Credit”. Speaking with Nouse, Peter Dwyer stated that universal credit in its current form and its waiting time only served to “heap hardship on people who are poor and that’s why I signed the letter.” Universal credit, according to the Social Policy lecture is “not going to get people back into work any quicker and it’s not going to feed the children” adding “so why are we doing it?”

“We should have rights to basic welfare but we should be enabling people into work, not saying we’re not going to support you if you have another child. The evidence shows me it’s creating hardship, and we shouldn’t have a welfare system that creates hardship

When Nouse asked about how he thinks the Government will receive the letter, Peter states “I have limited optimism... we spend a lot of time trying to push at doors and trying to convince governments to change their minds but a lot of it depends on political will.I do not think the current government is inclined to accept this sort of approach“

"But that shouldn’t mean you shouldn’t stop trying”, using the analogy of it’s like water dripping on stone the lecturer argues “eventually you will see an impact and things will change slowly, “it takes time but you’ve just go to try and present evidence and hope.”

Nouse also spoke to fellow signatory Rachael Maskell, York Central MP. The Labour MP told Nouse: “It is clear from the work I have done that universal credit does not provide the support that people need. Since it was first introduced I have met so many desperate families who are struggling with their universal credit. Vulnerable people are facing debt and hardship. Problems with the administration of the benefit have seen thousands of people relying on food banks. Universal credit is meant to be a safety net but there are huge holes in the net and too many people are falling through”.

When asked about her optimism going forward Maskell seemed reasonably positive stating “I have met with the Minister on several occasions and also with Jobcentre Plus who administer universal credit and there have been some tweaks to the system which has meant that people are not having to wait so long for their benefit and can pay back any advances over longer periods.”

Maskell argues however, that “tweaks like this are not enough and real change needs to happen” indicating the real problem “is that the Government does not seem to understand this and they believe that tinkering around the edges is enough”

“I hope the Government will listen but right now they don’t seem to be”. Maskell added that “The support of experts, like Peter Dwyer, is vital if we are to get anywhere”. Also stating that “it is important that when we are developing policy as widely as possible. I often meet with university departments who have an understanding of how policies are shaped and how they have evolved over time, what has worked, what has failed and how we can work towards creating a better system".

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