Conference slammed Universal Credit as “not fit for purpose,” a system which has created misery and poverty for those dependent on benefits.
UNISON will campaign along with other organisations to pause its roll out and to reform all the worst aspects of the system.
A wide-ranging composite was moved by National Disabled Members’ rep, Kath McGuiness. She highlighted Universal Credit’s particular impact on disabled people, and fears that without changes, it will drive disabled people into poverty and despair.
Speaker after speaker spoke of other vulnerable groups impacted by benefits changes, such as our low paid members, women with children, domestic violence victims, rape victims, care leavers and the chronically and terminally ill.
In an emotional contribution to the debate, especially for their friends in Scotland, Lanarkshire Health’s Katrina Murray received a standing ovation as she told the heart-breaking story of 21 year old Leeanne Hawkins, the daughter and grand-daughter of our friends and UNISON colleagues, Helen Ann and Helen.
Katrina said: “She is a part of our branch family. We were concerned and worried when she was continually ill and all devastated when she shock of a diagnosis came through. Stage 4, inoperable stomach cancer. With chemo, she could have up to a year to live.
“She was 21
“Her family applied for PIP and ESA but because her part of Lanarkshire was part of the Universal Credit roll out she had to undergo the application process. Therefore even with a medical exemption she was called to a work capability assessment. Could she go to work if they could supply a wheelchair?
“Leeanne died less than a week later.
“I spoke to Leanne’s mum this morning to ask if it was okay to tell her story. She said yes – shout it loud, Universal Credit is inhumane.
“I want to thank all the Scottish Health branches for their support and particularly Dave Prentis and Liz for their messages of support”, said Katrina, urging delegates to do all they can to campaign for reform.
First time Conference speaker, City of Edinburgh’s Tara McCarthy told conference that she was a lone parent, reliant on a single income to financially support her daughter and herself.
“Although my personal circumstances bring a degree of limitation to my life, I am fortunate in many ways,” said Tara adding that she has had opportunities to study and gain qualifications and works in a job that pays more than the living wage, so doesn’t have to rely on in-work benefits to get by.
“My opportunities to work are not adversely affected by disability, discrimination or physical and/or mental ill-health.
“And yet, it is still difficult to make ends meet, to maintain the precarious balance of income and expenditure, always dreading that unexpected bill should the washing machine or boiler pack in.
“So, when it comes to people living in our society whose lives are impacted by poverty, disability, ill-health and discrimination, for whom reliance on welfare benefits is not a ‘life-choice’, where survival in our ever increasingly competitive, individualistic and expensive society is further impacted by high housing costs and the increasing info costs of living that are beyond their control…I don’t know how people depending on benefits whether in work or not survive,” said Tara.
She condemned that Universal Credit was marketed as incentivising people to work rather than stay on benefits, “as if this is a choice!”
Tara warned, “The evidence is clear. This programme of welfare reform is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, making it more difficult for people to live day-to-day, in often very challenging personal circumstances, never mind get out of the benefit trap and take meaningful control of their lives.”