Labour councillors in Tower Hamlets have condemned Universal Credit as “dehumanising” the poor.
The benefits initiative was attacked by the council, who argued it reinforced the “Victorian concept of the undeserving poor”.
The council said it will do “everything in its power” to stop the scheme from being rolled out across Britain; it called for a more comprehensive system in which “nobody would be worse off”.
Universal Credit is due to be given out to all claimants by 2023, replacing housing benefits, income-related employment, support allowances and other national credit.
Statistics show that 35,000 households – 29 percent of the borough’s population – receive housing benefits; this means 1 in every 3 households will be affected by decisions made about Universal Credit.
The system that facilitated Universal Credit has been plagued with problems. The council conducted a survey with Child Poverty Action Group and found 80 percent of claims took five or more weeks to process, leaving respondents with insufficient funds to live off.
The Department of Work and Pensions also revealed in June that 40 percent of claimants were still experiencing financial hardships, even nine months into making a claim.
Councillor Dan Tomlinson, Labour councillor for Bromley North, has claimed that the bill “punishes way more than it supports.”
He said: “These cuts have made hundreds of thousands of families, thousands of pounds worse off. The conservative government decided to roll out this new system of benefits at the same time as making swinging cuts to the amount of support given to lower income families.”
Concerns were also raised about Universal Credit potentially facilitating economic abuse: a form of domestic abuse.
Under the scheme, cohabiting couples must nominate a single bank account for a single monthly payment to be paid into. Women’s groups emphasised that single payments can rob a woman of financial autonomy by placing financial resources into the hands of abusers.
Eve McQuillan, Labour Councillor for Bethnal Green, asked: “When were we happy with a system that facilitates financial abuse and prevents women from leaving abusive relationships with partners? Universal Credit makes it easier for perpetrators of domestic abuse to control and exploit their victims.”
Mayor Biggs’ Tackling Poverty Fund has allocated £1 million to support Tower Hamlets residents who have been affected by the shortcomings of Universal Credit.