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More than one in ten in Great Yarmouth and Waveney rely on Universal Credit

Protest over universal credit in Pottergate, Norwich. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

Protest over universal credit in Pottergate, Norwich. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

Archant

More than one in ten people of working age in Great Yarmouth and Waveney are now on Universal Credit amid fears the wider roll out will have severe consequences.

Mark Harrison, protest organiser over universal credit in Pottergate, Norwich. Picture: Victoria PertusaMark Harrison, protest organiser over universal credit in Pottergate, Norwich. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) reveal a 21pc rise in claimants in Great Yarmouth and 33pc rise in Waveney since January of this year.

As of today (WED) the benefit will be available in every Job Centre in the country for existing claimants.

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 DWP, but there were problems with claimants going without income for weeks and landlords not receiving rent.

Latest figures show more than 8,000 people claimed Universal Credit in Great Yarmouth last month, and more than 7,000 in Waveney.

It equates to 15pc of the working age population in Yarmouth, and 11pc in Waveney.

One of those is a man in his 40s from Lowestoft, who said has suffered with chronic epilepsy for the last 25 years and struggled to have benefits reinstated after he was transferred on to Universal Credit earlier this year.

Protest over universal credit in Pottergate, Norwich. Picture: Victoria PertusaProtest over universal credit in Pottergate, Norwich. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

After a downturn in his condition which forced him to leave his job in computer science, he began to claim Employment Support Allowance.

When he was reassessed under Universal Credit his benefits were stopped and he was deemed fit for work.

He then submitted Mandatory Reconsideration Appeal against the decision to stop his benefits, the appeal took more than six weeks.

During this time, he was living with no money and was facing eviction.

He said: “The financial instability of this is probably the biggest stress trigger, my fits increased to two a week.

“Every time I have a seizure it could potentially kill me, and they have increased my stresses,” he said.

He was found to have Limited Capability for Work (LCW) but would not get the disability element of the benefit, because of this he was £150 a month worse off.

Universal Credit was officially rolled out in Norwich in October despite opposition.

Mark Harrison, chair of Norfolk Against Universal Credit, said the immediate impact will be hunger and homelessness over the festive period.

“Anybody who moves onto Universal Credit after November 26 won’t get a payment before Christmas,” he said. “That means families going without Christmas and going hungry; relying on foodbanks.

“It is premeditated cruelty. The benefit hoovers up everybody - people who are working part-time and on low wages - and all the figures show single parents and the self employed are going to be around £200 a month worse off.

“There is a still a delay built into the system and this comes after eight years of austerity while people have been suffering.

“If people did have any resources, for most those resources are gone. If people start with nothing and have a six week delay it immediately plunges them into thousands of pounds of debt or puts them at risk of homelessness.”

A spokesperson for Waveney District Council said in November 6,612 households were served by Universal Credit.

“Of these households, 1,222 (18.5%) are categorised as ‘working no requirements’ meaning these households are in work and would previously have only received Tax Credits,” they said.

“In addition, there are 992 households classed as ‘working with requirements’ indicating they are also in employment and receiving support from the Jobcentre to progress.”

They added through Citizens Advice the council provides support to assist with monthly budgeting and repayment of debt.

“The removal of these obstacles helps people to concentrate on looking for work,” the spokesperson added. “As of 30 November, we have supported 715 people claiming Universal Credit with Personal Budgeting Support.”

The government says Universal Credit replaces an “out-of-date, complex benefits system with cliff edges”, which disincentivised work and could “trap” people in unemployment.

Great Yarmouth Borough Council did not respond to a request for comment.

Are you having problems with Universal Credit? Email dominic.gilbert@archant.co.uk

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