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Protesters outside Cambridge Jobcentre say Universal Credit cut ‘penalises poor’

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A protest against the £20 per week cut in Universal Credit from today was held by disparate organisations outside the Cambridge Jobcentre Plus building in Chesterton Road this afternoon.

Protesters outside Cambridge Jobcentre on the day Universal Credit is cut by £20 a week. Pictures: Mike Scialom
Protesters outside Cambridge Jobcentre on the day Universal Credit is cut by £20 a week. Pictures: Mike Scialom

Universal Credit is paid to people who are out of work or on low incomes. Many people on Universal Credit are not able to work due to disability, long-term illness or other reasons.

In Cambridge, individuals and members of Cambridge People’s Assembly Against Austerity, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) Cambridgeshire and Essex, Cambridge Green Party and Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) Cambridge unfurled a banner, held placards and spoke out against the cut. Research by Citizens’ Advice suggests that up to 1.5 million working claimants will be forced into hardship as a result of the reduction.

Particularly badly affected are disabled Universal Credit recipients, who even with the uplift reach only 43 per cent of the recommended minimum income standard, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. A report from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission found that disabled people are three times more likely to live in “severe deprivation” than non-disabled people.

One of the DPAC protesters said in front of the Jobcentre Plus facility: “There’s lots of people who can’t come here today who are now in far worse situations because they can’t pay the bills for basics, and this is especially so for the disabled.

“If you can’t get the things you need to, you won’t be able to take care of yourself, and many can’t even get to a food bank.”

A recent Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) survey found that half of all Universal Credit claimants were living in food insecurity in May and June, with more than a quarter experiencing this severely.

A woman from KOPN Cambridge added: “It’s going to be very bad for our health – especially for everybody’s mental health.”

Placards outside Cambridge Jobcentre
Placards outside Cambridge Jobcentre

The removal of the £20 Universal Credit uplift – a temporary measure introduced during the pandemic – occurred on the same day the Prime Minister addressed the Tory conference. Boris Johnson said of the cut: “What we won’t do is take more money in tax to subsidise low pay through the welfare system.” However, removing the £20-a-week uplift will “seriously damage” the health, wellbeing and life chances of the most vulnerable, the British Psychological Society has said.

On Chesterton Road, another attendee said he was there “in solidarity” with those impacted by the cuts.

“I’m not personally affected,” he said, “but some of my close friends are. It makes me angry knowing what they are going through, the government is so callous and indifferent to allow this to happen. It could only be done by people who don’t give a ****. The government and corporations they work for don’t care about people’s welfare – in fact the government and corporations have been making money throughout this pandemic from PPE, procurement deals.... People have been making money hand over the fist and it’s the poor who get penalised. The new taxes they voted in are going to affect the poorest in society too, not the richest, who have got even richer during this crisis.

“We need a totally different system to get out of this mess because it’s not working and it’s not going to work. It’s bankrupt – economically, morally, spiritually and practically bankrupt. We need to start again.”

Protests against the payment reduction took place across the country.

The cut in Universal Credit comes in the same week as the cessation of the furlough scheme. A government spokesman said: “We’ve always been clear that the uplift to Universal Credit was temporary.

“It was designed to help claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic, and it has done so.

“Universal Credit will continue to provide vital support for those both in and out of work and it’s right that the government should focus on our Plan for Jobs, supporting people back into work and supporting those already employed to progress and earn more.”

Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner told the Cambridge Independent: “This is the biggest overnight cut to a benefit rate ever in the history of the welfare state. It will leave 6,800 locals affected. As this mean-spirited cut came into force Boris Johnson was giving a speech based which didn’t seem to be remotely based in the real world where working people are facing spiralling costs of energy, fuel and food and the Tories are actively making things worse.”

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha (Liberal Democrat, Newnham) said: “The ending of the government’s furlough scheme last week, coupled with the end of the top-up to universal credit this week, is likely to be causing some families across Cambridgeshire real anxiety.

“We are particularly concerned that people who have never before had to claim free school meals do so if they are eligible, as it is really important for children’s education that they are not hungry, and that families under pressure aren’t forced to choose between eating or heating as the winter approaches.”

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