Protesters gather to call for Universal Credit to be scrapped as Cambridge prepares for the new benefits system’s roll-out

Protesters in Cambridge call for Universal Credit to be scrapped. Picture: JOSH THOMAS

Protesters in Cambridge call for Universal Credit to be scrapped. Picture: JOSH THOMAS - Credit: Archant

Around 50 demonstrators with banners and flags gathered outside the Job Centre in Cambridge to call for a re-think over the controversial benefits system.

The new Universal Credit “full service” is to be introduced in Cambridge and south Cambridgeshire from today (October 17).

New claimants will be inducted straight into this system, while existing benefit claimants will be added to the system next year.

The Department for Work and Pensions hopes the new system will make benefits simpler to access and understand, but there are fears the most vulnerable people could be hit by the changes.

Universal Credit replaces six other benefits (jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance, child and working tax credits, housing benefit, and income support) and is based on a monthly assessment period.

Carla McQueen, who represents East Chesterton at Cambridge City Council, said some claimants could be excluded if they were unable to apply online.

She said the new system could force people into having to choose whether to spend money on food or accommodation, meaning more people could find themselves homeless.

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Cllr McQueen said: “This will hit the most vulnerable people, particularly here in Cambridge where housing is not that easy to get.”

One benefits claimant, who asked not to be named, said Universal Credit would not benefit many people.

He said: “You are looking at so many different circumstances. You have people with part-time jobs, or people with zero-hour contracts. I think what it needs is better infrastructure.

“At the moment, it is not there. It is like sticking a band aid on top of a band aid.”

Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner said: “I have long opposed Universal Credit; it is a system designed to punish, not to support people.

“For Cambridge, the problems won’t be just today or even in the next few months, but it will be when all existing claimants are migrated over to Universal Credit and we see a huge increase in demand.

“Currently there are 4,500 families claiming tax credits, including 7,800 children, I do not want to see any of those families become victim to the benefit sanctions and loss of income that many millions of others across the country have.