Phelim Mac Cafferty: Protecting residents from worst of universal credit

Cllr Phelim Mac Cafferty
Cllr Phelim Mac Cafferty

Universal credit, a benefit change that will affect 20,000 people in Brighton and Hove, is due to be rolled out across the city over the next few months.

For many, universal credit will represent a loss of disposable income that could threaten the roof over their heads.

Under the scheme, people will be waiting up to ten weeks for a first payment, leaving many in rent arrears and debt. Universal credit claimants in areas where it has been trialled have reported a rise in food bank usage, an increase in homelessness, and spiralling debt.

The change is also costing taxpayers dearly - Croydon Council spent an additional £3 million on rent arrears caused by late payments. Charities are warning that it’s residents who are already vulnerable, such as the disabled, children and care leavers, who will be hardest hit.

One of the many issues with universal credit is that for the first time money goes directly to the claimant, bypassing the support role of the council. Previous systems such as paying housing benefit directly to landlords have been scrapped. Consequently, a survey by the National Landlords Association revealed that only two in ten landlords are now prepared to rent to universal credit claimants.

Nationally, the Government is under pressure to pause the scheme. While that discussion pans out in Westminster, back in July, we boosted the funds available to local charities that will be at the frontline as support needs increase.

Green councillors at next week’s Full Council meeting will argue that we want to see the strongest action taken to protect Brighton and Hove residents from the worst of universal credit.

We are pushing for the city council to treat eviction as a last resort for recovering rent in cases where arrears are linked to universal credit. We want to increase the hard cash available to make emergency one-off payments to those at immediate risk of eviction.

We will fight to lessen the impact this socially corrosive and punitive benefit change will have on our city’s residents and we call on the Labour council to do more to protect those at risk.

Phelim Mac Cafferty is the convenor of the Greens on Brighton & Hove City Council.