We need a new year government guarantee on universal credit

Volunteers from the Edible London food project help to prepare food parcels at Alexandra Palace in L

Volunteers from the Edible London food project help to prepare food parcels at Alexandra Palace in April 2020. - Credit: PA/Victoria Jones

Few people in England will remember times as grim as this.

As we approach new year, the twin impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit inspire dread and fear in the minds of many.

These are people from communities that have been marginalized by successive governments (Theresa May called them the "left behind") and have the grinding, humiliating day-to-day experience of subsistence living with the threat of withdrawn benefits and sanctions. 

They have the worst mortality and life expectancy rates, not just for Covid-19.

They will get sick and die earlier than people with NW3 or N8 postcodes: the shocking thing is that it has been like this for decades.

It is not just the unemployed – it is a disproportionate number of people from BAME communities, those on low wages and those with zero employment rights, those in poor housing, people with learning difficulties or poor mental health and many others.

These are the same people that have keep things going over the past nine months by doing the delivery, cleaning, driving, hospitality, arts, retail and caring jobs that we all rely on.

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My own borough, Haringey, has been doing its best to respond.

Working with community and faith groups, food banks and distribution networks based at Tottenham FC and Ally Pally have (literally) been a lifeline for increasing numbers.

Rates of unemployment and furlough in Tottenham are the highest in the country: an estimated 45% of Tottenham adults are not working.

Dame Louise Casey has remarked that, although Johnson says we are all in the same boat, “…some of us are in yachts and some in rafts which are sinking quickly”.

The impact of Brexit will make things worse: one social campaigner pithily predicted that its impacts will hit the poor “...first and worst”.

Our politics, warped by gross and unsustainable inequalities, is already stretched close to breaking. The Government must acknowledge this, and the opposition must press home the urgent need to tackle the insecurities and fear that so many people now experience as the norm.

A New Year’s announcement that universal benefits will not be dropped to pre-Covid-19 levels would lift the spectre of uncertainty for millions of people. But that should just be the beginning.

  • David Winskill is a Crouch End-based campaigner.
David Winskill, Crouch End Neighbourhood Forum

David Winskill. - Credit: David Winskill