"This job centre is going to cause misery" said one of the protest's organisersEvelina Gumileva

Universal Credit is “a system designed to punish the poor”, said Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner. James Youd, Cambridge Branch Secretary of Unite, said that the new social security scheme is “wreaking havoc on the most vulnerable in society.” CUSU Disabled Students’ officer Emrys Travis described it as “the epitome of a litany of government cuts and incompetence that actively entrench the marginalisation of the most vulnerable groups in our society.”

On Wednesday, the new Universal Credit scheme was rolled-out in Cambridge, and across the country, for those newly seeking social security. According to the UK government, Universal Credit simplifies working age benefits and incentivises paid work, by replacing six other means-tested benefits and tax credits.

Research by the Resolution Foundation, an independent British think tank, suggests that 3.2m working ​families​ will lose an average of £48 per week as a result of the Universal Credit rollout compared to the previous system.

The sick, the disabled, those in low low pay and the out of work are being punished once again by this nasty Tory government

Downing Street has said that £3bn has been set aside to ease the transitional process to ensure that those moving to Universal Credit from the old split system will not initially lose out. However, new claimants won't benefit from this protection, neither will those whose circumstances change, or who come off and then back onto benefits.

Cambridge Unite Community, Cambridge Labour, the People's Assembly and others, including students, staged a demonstration outside the Cambridge Job Centre to coincide with the rollout of Universal Credit on Wednesday. Around 35 people gathered to condemn the new social security scheme, holding up printed letters spelling out “Scrap Universal Credit”.

Speaking at the protest outside the job centre on Wednesday, Youd, one of the protest’s organisers, said: “this job centre is going to cause misery, as it has done for the past 8 years.”

Youd elaborated that “the sick, the disabled, those in low low pay and the out of work” will be unfairly disadvantaged by the new system, and emphasised his belief in a “compassionate welfare state” that offers “dignity” to “our vulnerable fellow citizens.” Youd noted specifically that Cambridge’s high rents and overstretched support services mean that Universal Credit will “needlessly lead to rent arrears, debt and homelessness.”

As many of us are aware, this city is already one of two halves

Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner, told Varsity that he has opposed the Conservative government’s Universal Credit plans “from the start”.

He described Universal Credit as “a system designed to punish the poor, not to provide a civilised standard of living for everyone that a rich country like ours can most certainly afford.” He also explained that, in his view, a simplified system cannot “capture the complexities of the many different circumstances faced by different people in very different situations across the country.”

Asked about the impact anticipated in Cambridge, Zeichner said: “As many of us are aware, this city is already one of two halves. With high housing and living costs, it is very easy for families to slip into a spiral of poverty.” He warned that there will be increasing use of foodbanks, and increasing rent difficulties, making it harder for those on benefits to access rental properties.

He emphasised, despite ongoing work from both himself and other local organisations: “We know that people will be worse off.”

Addressing gathered protesters on Wednesday, CUSU Disabled Students’ officer Emrys Travis highlighted an often-cited ‘town versus gown’ divide in the city: “We, the students of Cambridge… have been failing to organise with people in the town.” They explained that issues such as Universal Credit  “affect all of us”, and that students “don’t do well enough in making those links” with the local community.

They added, “I just wanted to say a quick solidarity from the students of Cambridge University, from CUSU, and we are going to work on building those links in the future.”

We, the students of Cambridge… have been failing to organise with people in the town

Speaking to Varsity, they described Universal Credit as: “The epitome of a litany of government cuts and incompetence that actively entrench the marginalisation of the most vulnerable groups in our society.

“[It] puts disabled students in particular in an impossible bind”. They elaborated that students already receiving certain benefits such as the Disability Living Allowance will now need to undergo a work capability assessment, rather than simply providing medical evidence as before, in order to access the money they need.

Co-Chairs of Cambridge Universities Labour Club (CULC), Katie Clark and Ali Hyde, slammed Universal Credit as “another Tory policy of which the negative impact will be felt most by the most vulnerable in society.”

They said that poverty in Cambridge is “very well hidden” from both students and tourists who “rarely have to leave the grandeur of the centre”, but noted that even in the centre, in certain colleges that may not yet pay the living wage, “this roll out of universal credit will affect college staff; cleaners, catering staff and contracted workers on low earnings.”

CULC will further seek to “highlight the fact that in areas where Universal Credit has already been rolled out, Food Bank use has proliferated”.


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Gabriel Barton-Singer, Chair of the Cambridge University Liberal Association (CULA) was less firm in his criticism, though described the Universal Credit scheme as a “good idea in theory” but a “disaster in practice”, placing blame on “massive underfunding.”

He described the Universal Credit “shambles” as “the latest policy cock-up produced by a government that is obsessed only with Brexit and can't get on with the day job.”

On Saturday, a march calling for Universal Credit to be scrapped is planned from Great St Mary's Church to Henry Giles House, the location of the city’s job centre.

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