Protest as controversial Universal Credit is rolled out into Norwich
- Credit: Archant
The controversial Universal Credit benefit system was rolled out into Norwich today (Wednesday), marked with a protest.
And warnings have been reiterated that the shake-up could lead to more homelessness, debt, rent arrears and use of food banks.
The government scheme sees a bundle of income-based benefits, including Jobseekers' Allowance, tax credits and housing benefit - merged into one payment.
But the attempt to reform the benefits system has proved controversial.
Great Yarmouth was picked as a pilot area by the Department for Work Pensions, but there were problems with claimants going without income for weeks and landlords not receiving rent.
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And disabled people staged a protest over the introduction of Universal Credit.
Norfolk Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) staged the protest outside the Jobcentre in Pottergate at 11am, joined by their colleagues from Suffolk, Labour Party members and UNITE the Union.
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Mark Harrison, from Norfolk DPAC, said: 'The government know from their own statistics that the introduction of Universal Credit will coincide with an increase in child poverty and hunger.
'They know disabled people and their families are disproportionately affected. They know single parents and working families are going to lose £200 a month.
'They know it will increase debt, food bank use, rent arrears and homelessness and still they proceed.'
One of the protesters was Martin Tolley, 56, who cannot work due to being in constant pain with ankylosing spondylitis - a chronic condition where the spine and other parts of the body suffer from inflamation.
He said the hidden impact was that claimants were dropping out of the system because they did not have access to a computer and could not provide or even understand the information required to make the claim.
Norwich City Council recently spent £270,000 on a revamp of City Hall's customer contact centre, where people seek help and support with benefits, while a team of advisers has been set up specifically to deal with Universal Credit work.
Karen Davis, cabinet member for social inclusion at the city council, recently said: 'We believe that we are as prepared as we can be for the advent of the full Universal Credit service, but will continue to work with a range of stakeholders to evolve our approach.
'Notwithstanding this preparedness, we still have concerns about the impact of Universal Credit on particularly vulnerable residents in the context of the wider pressures of welfare reform.'
The Archbishop of Canterbury recently criticised Universal Credit, saying it had left people worse off and caused 'intense suffering'.
But the government says it replaces an 'out-of-date, complex benefits system with cliff edges', which disincentivised work and could 'trap' people in unemployment.
A rally in protest at the changes will take place in Norwich later this month. The event will start at St Peter Mancroft Church at 11am on Saturday, October 27.
What is Universal Credit?
Universal Credit is a monthly benefit payment which helps with living costs.
It replaces child tax credit, housing benefit, income support, income-based jobseeker's allowance, income-related employment and support allowance and working tax credit.
It is made up of a standard allowance and how much people get depends upon their earnings - reducing gradually as people earn more. For every £1 earned, payment is reduced by 63p.
The monthly standard allowance is £251.77 (single and under 25), £317.82 (single and 25 or over), £395.20 (for a couple if both under 25), £498,89 (for a couple if either are 25 or over).
There are extra amounts for eligible people with children and those with disabilities or health conditions.
People's circumstances are assessed every month.
Visit www.gov.uk/universal-credit for more information.