‘We want to see a fightback’: Protests greet Edinburgh Universal Credit roll-out

Universal Credit claimants in the capital won’t receive their first payment until the New Year, while the City of Edinburgh Council has already set aside £3m to mitigate the effects of the new system

UNIVERSAL CREDIT (UC), the widely criticised new system at the heart of Tory welfare reforms, began its roll-out in Edinburgh today [28 November], eliciting a storm of protest from opposition politicians and local activists.

With the foodbank network the Trussel Trust predicting that this December will be the busiest for foodbanks since records began, following a 15 per cent rise in Scottish foodbank use compared to 2017, Edinburgh foodbanks are preparing for increased demand, while the City of Edinburgh Council has already set aside £3m to mitigate the expected consequences of UC’S implementation in the city.

The roll-out of the ‘full service’ of the controversial welfare system – which has been condemned by critics as inefficient, punitive and likely to drive those reliant upon it further into debt and poverty – was greeted at Edinburgh’s Leith Jobcentre by anti-UC protestors, including representatives of the Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty (ECAP), Sisters Uncut and Oficina Precaria.

“We declare we will take direct action against any employer involved in Universal Credit workfare. We declare we will take direct action to defend people sanctioned under Universal Credit. We declare we will take direct action in solidarity with all under attack.” ECAP Declaration of Resistance to Universal Credit

Following today’s protest, which took place despite Storm Diana hitting Edinburgh with severe wind and rain, a spokesperson for ECAP told CommonSpace: “We are encouraged that people came out today in the rain to oppose Universal Credit. 

“Universal Credit increases poverty, homelessness and misery. It massively increases the scope and length of sanctions. It attacks the disabled, young people, women, workers, migrants.  Research shows the majority of claimants will be worse off.

“The fact that new claimants have to wait many weeks for their first payment causes huge hardship and plunges many into rent arrears, from which many never recover, losing their homes. It’s all part of the Government's austerity attack, designed to undermine everyone's wages and conditions and force people to accept low-paid, insecure jobs.”

READ MORE: Rudd says she’s willing to listen on Universal Credit, but lashes out at UN poverty expert

“Demonstrators today proclaimed a Declaration of Resistance to Universal Credit, multiple copies of which were fixed to the Leith Jobcentre wall. This read: ‘We declare we will take direct action against any employer involved in Universal Credit workfare. We declare we will take direct action to defend people sanctioned under Universal Credit. We declare we will take direct action in solidarity with all under attack.’

Following a series of Freedom of Information requests which revealed that local authorities in Scotland have spent more than £24m to mitigate the effects of UC already, the City of Edinburgh Council’s setting aside of £3m for similar reasons yesterday prompted Edinburgh Northern and Leith MSP Ben Macpherson to reiterate his calls for an immediate halt to UC’s rollout.

“These latest eye-watering figures show that the City of Edinburgh Council has had to put aside £3 million to mitigate the effects of this disastrous Tory UK Government policy, which is being imposed on Scotland. That is fundamentally unfair.” SNP MSP Ben MacPherson

Macpherson said: “Universal Credit is currently a broken system – it’s leaving people destitute, driving children into poverty and forcing families to rely on foodbanks.

“And these latest eye-watering figures show that the City of Edinburgh Council has had to put aside £3 million to mitigate the effects of this disastrous Tory UK Government policy, which is being imposed on Scotland. That is fundamentally unfair.

READ MORE: Minister spars with Labour over best means of undoing Tory welfare reforms following UN poverty report

Also commenting ahead of the Edinburgh implementation, Scottish Green social security spokesperson and Lothian MSP Alison Johnstone said: “Despite warnings to pause the roll-out from welfare rights organisations, local authorities, academic experts and opposition parties, more people in Edinburgh will be exposed to this shambolic system, and just before Christmas, when pressures on family budgets are at their tightest.

"It is time to pause and properly fund and fix Universal Credit, before it causes any more misery, both in Edinburgh and nationwide.”

Speaking to CommonSpace, the Edinburgh anti-cuts activist and member of the Low Income Families Together (LIFT) campaign Willie Black said: “To me, it’s a complete disaster. The benefit cap for children and the evictions that have been happening in Edinburgh – these are individual disasters for these families.

“We want to see a fightback. We want to see the council stop managing the cuts, and begin to fight the cuts.” Edinburgh anti-cuts activist Willie Black

“So on top of the disaster of the benefit cap, rolling out Universal Credit this close to Christmas, so that the delay kicks in for new claimants, which means that they’ll have no money for Christmas and New Year.”

Commenting on the financial challenge facing Edinburgh’s local authority in the wake of UC’s implementation, Black said: “I can’t see any signs of austerity ending any time soon; the end of austerity will need to be fought for. No council has got sufficient funds to deal with this.

“In Edinburgh, for instance, the housing stock hasn’t been built over the past 15-20 years, and now they’re running hard to find and build enough for the 25,000 that are on the waiting list in Edinburgh.

“We really need to organise ourselves as communities, but also look for allies in the trade union movement and the general social movements across Scotland and beyond.

“With the coalition in Edinburgh, you do get the warm words: ‘we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that…’ But if they’ve got no cash, as they say, they don’t implement it, or they do it piecemeal.

“We want to see a fightback. We want to see the council stop managing the cuts, and begin to fight the cuts. We elected them to be a political leadership; surely that’s the purpose. They should be leading the marches, they should be leading the protests, even if it’s against themselves.”

Picture courtesy of Luca Moglia

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