In 2013, the Scottish city of Inverness had the unfortunate fate of being picked as the trial site for a pilot of "universal credit," one of the UK Conservative government's big ideas, in which the various benefits paid to low-income people were replaced with a single payment, centrally administered.
The problem is that it's not actually administered, it's just a chaotic muddle of bad communication, bad police, continuous errors, and high-handed denial of benefits that has left working people who've never been in debt owing thousands, evicted, and even starving as they try to navigate the kafka-esque nightmare that the Conservatives have put them through.
The local MP spends 60% of his time dealing with complaints about universal credit. Employees at the Citizens' Advice Bureau are putting in unpaid overtime. Military charities are stepping in to prevent veterans from being evicted. Food banks are scrambling to fill the needs.
The system is designed to be exclusively served via web-based forms, but one of the first things that people in trouble lose is their internet service (because the phone companies are the most aggressive about unpaid bills). Claimants end up haunting the doorways of supermarkets to use the free wifi to file form after form, all of which go ignored.
The Department for Work and Pensions say nothing is wrong: "The vast majority of claimants tell us they are comfortable managing their money. In the minority of cases where an issue does arise, we work closely with claimants, local organisations and landlords to resolve them as quickly as possible."
Jennifer Soley from the local Albyn Housing Society said many other tenants were in similar situations, a large proportion of whom were in work. About 65% of universal-credit-claiming tenants are in arrears, with average debts of just over £700, compared with just 20% of the rest of their residents.
"The thing that disturbs me most is that this isn't one or two people who are complaining. This is hundreds and hundreds of people."
Hendry is angry at the government's refusal to listen to the mounting list problems he has reported. "We have given evidence for three years about the problems we're seeing, and they have not reacted. The system is meant to support people who are vulnerable, but the ones who are being devastated by it are the ones who can least cope.
'We went days without eating properly': how universal credit brought misery to Inverness
[Amelia Gentleman/The Guardian]
(via Naked Capitalism)