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Universal credit – really?

12 October 2017

The accelerated roll out of Universal Credit is in the news currently for the hardship it is causing. It seems to me that it was designed by policy makers and politicians to streamline the benefits system and focus it more to moving people into work. There may have been a motivation to save money as well. It was certainly an important piece of work.

Now I think it is vital to read, watch and listen to the items being posted about this issue. Then to speak out about what you have learnt.

However, there is an important lesson here.

It seems that this policy was designed without thorough consultation with those who are the recipients of the benefits. Or maybe people on the receiving end have been involved, but their perspective hasn’t been noted and applied.

There are better ways of doing things. It is valuable to shape what we do in society with as many views of possible. Take matters of finance and benefits – surely, we should listen to people who receive benefits, politicians, community and advocacy groups, policy makers, business people and so on. Following such a process is not a way to fudge issues, to leave things as they are or to favour one viewpoint. It would be a route to more courageous solutions.

In such a process, we should always give primacy of views to the people who are affected most and form solutions collaboratively. To put it another way “Nothing about us without us is for us.” This is a well tried and crucial principle. It is an approach which is being applied by Poverty Truth Commissions in cities and areas across the country, and indeed in our own city of Leeds – http://www.leedspovertytruth.org.uk/

If those who designed and now apply the new benefits system took this approach there may have been an opportunity for it to have been more ‘universal’ and more a ‘credit’ to us all. Most importantly, by these means we find plans and solutions that are people focused.

In the Christian faith there is a similar principle at work. The hope and transformation we seek is not offered at a distance but in Jesus. It is offered by one who is fully human… as the bible puts is: “Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” Hebrews 2: 17,18

For this reason, the hope of the Christian faith is people orientated, offered in human terms and fashioned with us.
“Nihil de nobis, sine nobis”

Graham Brownlee, October 2017

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