A UCD372 suggests some hellish sort of missile, and for some it is just as devastating. A UCD372 is the debt letter sent out by the Department of Work and Pensions to ‘claimants’, as the government would like them to be called, but are called ‘customers’ by those who care a little more. The letter has no colour to speak of, it’s comprised of serious greys, bold blacks and stark whites and looks very ominous. The language is just as frightening, as ‘claimants’ are warned ‘You are now in a minority of people who have received money they’re not entitled to.’ – due to the inefficiencies of the Universal Credit system hundreds of these letters are sent out every single day, but the recipient is ignorant to these and will no doubt feel as if the whole weight of the DWP is coming down on them and a select few others.
This, and many other examples, bang several nails in the coffin of Universal Credit that claims to be efficient and better for the ‘claimant’. It is entirely possible, and all too common, for citizens to be in receipt of two overlapping benefits without truly understanding that they are. The confusion of legacy benefits, as the six older benefits that comprise Universal Credit are called, and the new Universal Credit itself is difficult enough for the DWP to handle, let alone a single individual traversing the benefit minefield.
This single scenario shows the inherent wickedness in our current benefit system and the welfare state. Even the language is sneering. ‘Claimant’, it rings of someone who is having to stake a claim, a right for the pittance that the state pays out. Claims can be challenged and denounced and the DWP often does. When debts mount up then the DWP will recoup them from one’s Universal Credit. Up to 16% of one’s total benefits can be claimed, with ease, to repay arrears of all kinds. When someone is trying to live on a meagre Universal Credit this is no small amount. The almost Orwellian language is just as wicked, ‘You are now in a minority’, it’s difficult to think of something more horrible to utter. In a world in which any government of the day spouts language about inclusion and cohesion in society, it must be horrid for the government to say that there are minorities and you’re one of them. These scare tactics would be denounced if employed by a debt collector who knocked on your door, but when the government use them all is well.
This common scenario alone shows the struggle that basic income advocates ahead have. The culture of the Department of Work and Pensions is not geared to providing for all. It is about conquering and dividing. It is about sanctions, threats and bullying. Yet, it should be a weapon in the basic income armoury. When we see the realities of the system currently employed and what it does to citizens it is difficult to justify treating a person in such a way. It becomes easier to advocate a basic income. A world in which people are not ‘claimants’ or ‘customers’, but citizens and their right to a monthly cash transfer is enshrined in that citizenship alone. A right that cannot be challenged, sanctioned or taken away. Where debts cannot mount up and frightening letters don’t arrive in peoples lives. Where poverty is not compounded not due to the individual but by failings of the state. When given these two examples, which are fundamentally about human decency and how one should be treated, not benefits, it is hard to stick with the system we have.
This article was written by a current employee of the DWP, identity anonymised by CBINS.