Grenfell survivors face universal credit roll-out days before Christmas

Survivors of the Grenfell Tower disaster will be threatened by further hardship just days before Christmas when universal credit is rolled out in the borough.

Plans revealed on the day of the budget will mean that from 12 December any benefit claimants in the Kensington area whose financial circumstances change will be forced to use the new system.

This will include many former residents of the tower in which a fire killed 72 people in the summer of 2017, while even those whose circumstances do not change will be placed on the scheme by next summer.

Universal credit has been sharply criticised by opponents for leaving many of its claimants worse off than they had been previously, forcing them into debt and food bank usage.

In a statement Robert Atkinson, of the Labour group on Kensington and Chelsea council, said: “This is yet another blow to the people of this city who have had to endure an awful lot in the last 18 months.

“It’s a blatantly unfair system anyway, but I think there’s a special case for north Kensington.”

He added: “I’m shocked that they tried to sneak this out on a day when everyone was looking at the Budget.

“They didn’t want the bad publicity last year, that’s why they postponed it.”

The scheme was launched in 2013 in order to simplify the benefits system and to make sure people on benefits would not be better off than those who work.

However, critics say that many of those made worse off will be the poor, sick and disabled, all of which are likely to include Grenfell survivors.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Esther McVey, has admitted that some families could be left as much as £200 a month worse off.

The roll out of universal credit had been delayed for the borough of Kensington and Chelsea in the wake of the disaster, which left many people homeless, leaving it one of the last areas in the UK to join the scheme.

But now plans will go ahead for benefit claimants in Kensington and Chelsea to be moved to the new system.

A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions said: “The Grenfell fire was a horrific tragedy and our thoughts remain with those affected.

“Following last year’s events, DWP jobcentre staff handled people’s claims with sensitivity and flexibility and extra support was put in place for anyone who needed it – including applying exceptional circumstances rules to protect benefit payments for affected residents.

“The timetable for Universal Credit rollout has been available for some time and is on track for completion in December 2018.”

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