I’ve just sat through the whole budget waiting for the government’s answer to the widespread concern over UC. All Hammond would recognise were concerns over just two issues. He promises some extra help for people moving over from existing benefits – two weeks of support for those moving from JSA, ESA or IS, but only after July 2020. And what about people making new applications? New applicants will go on having to wait those 5-6 weeks for their first payment, building up unmanageable debt, and creating huge problems for social housing providers as rents are delayed. All that has been promised for them is the possibility to pay back that debt more slowly, and that only after October 2019.
And Hammond will give more help to people in work by increasing the work allowance – ie raising the cut-off rate for eligibility. This is a reversal of previous cuts both to Tax Credits and then in the change from Tax Credits to Universal Credit.
They have also made it a bit easier for self employed people to get started – but it will go on being a nightmare for them after that; and they admit that the full change over to UC will not be complete until December 2023, though they still plan to begin to force people on existing benefits to move to UC from July next year.
Nothing has been done about the benefit freeze that has reduced the real levels of benefits for years, or the benefit cap that reduces some families’ benefits even further, or the rape clause, or the chaos caused by lack of staff and training…
And after that miserable announcement on UC, Hammond went on to announce a tax cut for big earners by raising the threshold for higher rate income tax.
And the whole budget was dressed up as a reward for the ‘hard work of the British people’ – a phrase he repeated multiple times to suggest we were all in this together – given to ‘hardworking families, strivers, grafters and carers’.
So no change to the rhetoric, and no change to austerity politics, and definitely not enough to quiet concern over Universal Credit!