Disabled activists have called for opponents of universal credit (UC) across the country to help mirror the campaign that led to the poll tax being abandoned in the early 1990s, by joining a new national alliance that is demanding UC is scrapped.
They announced the new alliance at an online meeting organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) that focused on the ongoing campaign to “stop and scrap” UC.
Scrap Universal Credit Alliance (SUCA) will include disabled activists, disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), unions and allies.
Mark Harrison, from Norfolk Against Universal Credit (NAUC) and the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, said UC was “the 21st century workhouse” and was leaving people imprisoned in their own homes, in debt and reliant on food banks.
He said it was “urgent that we step up the campaign” to stop and scrap UC.
He said that was why DPAC, NAUC and others had set up SUCA, which will act as an umbrella campaign for all local campaigns around the country that are dedicated to scrapping UC.
Harrison said: “I think we need a campaign on a similar level to the poll tax movement, where a grassroots movement in every town, in every city, in every area of the country, had a movement to scrap the poll tax.
“It was a long campaign but eventually it was hugely successful and the poll tax was scrapped, and that led the way to getting rid of Thatcher.
“That’s what’s facing us with universal credit. With COVID-19, huge sections of the workforce are being thrown into unemployment, thrown onto the mercy of the DWP and universal credit.
“This is going to create a huge schism, so we need to step up our activities.”
SUCA’s website includes a guide to setting up a local campaign.
Harrison added: “Words are cheap. Unless we organise to get rid of this hated, miserable attack on our rights, which is forcing people into food poverty, into early death and suicide, we aren’t going to do justice to our movement.”
SUCA’s first action will be an online day of action on Wednesday (1 July), if the Department for Work and Pension (DWP) fails to extend the current suspension of benefit sanctions and conditionality, which is due to expire at the end of this month.
Harrison said this day of action could be used to launch local groups to scrap UC.
The online event took place on the same day as the funeral of disabled activist Seán McGovern, who died last month and had co-chaired the TUC disabled workers’ committee, among many other roles.
Dave Allan, chair of the national disabled members’ committee of the union Unite, and a member of the TUC disabled workers’ committee, described him as an “irreplaceable colleague and comrade” who was “unique in being able to bridge the gap between DPOs, disabled activists and the trade union movement, and we’re all going to miss him greatly”.
He said he and McGovern had helped to persuade unions to move in just a few months from a position where they were in favour of “pausing and fixing” UC to one where the TUC agreed unanimously to campaign for it to be “stopped and scrapped”.
Allan said: “This pernicious benefit system can be beaten.”
He said Unite had sent a motion to the TUC to call for a conference of action of trade unionists, disabled activists and DPOs to work together to produce a joint strategy to push for UC to be scrapped.
Activist and journalist Charlotte Hughes, author of the blog The Poor Side of Life, which exposes the impact of UC on claimants, told the online meeting: “Once you start to claim universal credit, you are immediately placed into more debt, and [you become] more dependent on family and friends if you’re lucky enough to have them.
“Many people have gone to loan sharks.
“I believe, and many others believe, that the whole system was set up to fail us.
“It wasn’t set up with our needs in mind. You can’t fix it.
“It’s horrendous for the workers and it’s horrendous for the claimants and it actively discriminates.”
She said the impact of COVID-19 had led to many people who were previously employed now having to claim UC.
She said: “Now it’s turned round because the people who were calling us scroungers are now seeing what it’s actually like.”
Disabled activist Gail Ward, from north-east DPAC, said universal credit was “an absolute carbuncle” and described its multiple flaws.
She said: “I would ask everybody, whether you’re a worker or whether you’re a claimant, on legacy benefits or on universal credit, to get behind a campaign and start shouting from the rooftops and say, ‘Enough is enough, we’re not going to take this anymore, it’s time to hold the government to account.’”
LaToya Grant, a commissioner on the Commission on Social Security, who co-chaired the meeting, said the fundamental problems with UC “haven’t changed” and so DPAC “continues to demand that UC is stopped and we want it scrapped”.
Jennifer Jones, co-founder of Sheffield DPAC, described the origins and success of the #DumpMetroDWPLies campaign, which saw activists all over the country removing and recycling copies of the free Metro newspaper after it ran a series of untruthful DWP adverts promoting UC.
The Advertising Standards Authority eventually ruled that the DWP adverts had breached its rules.
Paula Peters, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, was another to pay tribute to Seán McGovern.
She told the meeting that it was “really important that we build local campaign groups against universal credit in all our areas”.
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