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Opinion

Paul McNamee: We are the Universal Credit safety net

We’re here so long as any individual vendor needs us

Did it come from space? Was it the message in those 13 radio pulses from halfway across the universe?

How else do we explain the governmental change in Universal Credit provision that came in a big welcome wave last week?

First came a pause in rollout, putting the brakes on a further three million people moving to UC and instead looking at a pilot scheme covering 10,000.

It could be argued that a pilot scheme has been undertaken using the hundreds of thousands already on Universal Credit. The mess wrought by the five-week delay in payment enforced for new claimants patently proves the delay is a punitive one. But that is moot. Millions more people are not going to be immediately clobbered.

Then there was the reversal of a benefits cap on families with more than two children. And finally a High Court judgement ruled that the assessment method was wrongly interpreted by the government, costing claimants dear.

Amber Rudd, the Work and Pensions Secretary, said she was looking to make the system “compassionate and fair”, not words we are used to hearing from her predecessor Esther McVey.

We’re seeing people at the sharp end, people previously in work who were made redundant, suddenly thrown into poverty without an immediate safety net

Whether from space or from Rudd, and if from Rudd whether this is a change brought by conviction and not early manoeuvres in a leadership bid, it doesn’t matter. This is positive.

At The Big Issue, we know that the aim of Universal Credit, at the beginning anyway, was not bad. It was a means of simplifying a, frequently, Byzantine benefits system.

However, it became quickly politicised as part of a punishing austerity project, and therefore toxic. And we’re seeing people at the sharp end, people previously in work who were made redundant, suddenly thrown into poverty without an immediate safety net.

People like last week’s cover star Ann Warke from Exeter. The Big Issue offers a means to earn. We are the Universal Credit safety net – the poverty backstop.

And unlike that other contentious backstop frequently discussed at the moment, we’re not setting a timetable for withdrawal. We’re here so long as any individual vendor needs us.

Incidentally, there is another message that the radio pulses from deep, deep space may have been delivering. Eat more fibre.

Aliens, clearly, have noticed the growing noise and fury in the Brexit debate and decided that this is caused by too many people being, frankly, backed up. So, to make us calmer they’re keeping us intergalatically regular.

You may scoff at this. However, in terms of both alien radio signals and the Brexit debate it makes as much sense as anything else that has been said.

I’m away to have a Weetabix.

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