Universal Credit doesn't go far enough – work won't pay until people are running naked through stinging nettles to get their benefits

If your electricity has been cut off, you have to screw your application form into a ball and dribble it through a line of cones before kicking it into a bucket. That way you can soon come off benefits and earn £5m a year as a winger for Manchester City

Mark Steel
Friday 13 October 2017 06:25
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Iain Duncan-Smith struggled once, but then he got off his backside and was given a Tudor mansion by his father-in-law
Iain Duncan-Smith struggled once, but then he got off his backside and was given a Tudor mansion by his father-in-law

To understand the success of the Universal Credit scheme that benefit claimants now depend on, you only have to look at the wise people who created it. The scheme was devised by Lord Freud, a city banker, and therefore ideally placed to understand the trials of living on benefits.

It was carried forward by Iain Duncan-Smith, who had to struggle himself – but instead of wallowing in self-pity, he got off his backside and was given use of a Tudor mansion by his father-in law, the fifth Baron Cottesloe, which proves rewards come to those prepared to make an effort.

Now that the scheme has run into trouble, the government should put together a team who similarly comprehend the emotions at the heart of poverty in modern Britain, such as Prince Harry, Simon Cowell and the Sultan of Brunei.

Among the advantages of the new system, housing associations say evictions are up 50 per cent since Universal Credit started, which means claimants are no longer tied to a house, making them more flexible in pursuit of work.

Under the old scheme, a job clipping the claws of a Laird’s guinea pigs in Fife could be a tricky commute for someone restricted to the Cornwall area because they lived there. But now they’re homeless, they’re at liberty and can attend the interview without worrying they won’t get home to put the kids to bed, as there’s no bed and the kids are now in care.

Universal Credit explained

It’s been revealed the helpline for those most desperate can cost 55p a minute to call – a marvellous innovation, as it educates claimants in how to create wealth. Because we can all look up to the person prepared to use their drive and imagination to make money from a helpline for the desperately poor. It’s the get-ahead spirit of those prepared to take a bit off the top from starving single mothers that keeps this country going.

Maybe clever clerks on the helpline can earn bonuses by keeping the unemployed waiting longer by pretending to lose their file, or asking extra questions such as: “Would you be prepared to work with pterodactyls?” or, “Do you have your own rollercoaster?”

The whole system could be privatised so claimants become customers, and then they’ll be free to choose whichever service they like. They can have the basic package of being ignored while they fill in an incomprehensible form on a wobbly chair with the stuffing pouring out, or opt for a deluxe “Gold Sympathy” service in which a clerk says, “Are you all right, love?” as they faint from hunger – but this costs an extra £240.

Many people have found it impossible to make any contact with the office responsible for their payments, so a spokesperson for the new system defended the changes, saying: “People are encouraged to use their online journal because one aim of Universal Credit is to help people with their digital skills as that's good for their employability, and all about digital inclusion as well.”

That’s the language you want to hear when you’re starving. This must be how the Red Cross are trained to speak when they hand out food parcels in famine areas. When a child says, “Please, please, rice please, so hungry”, they get told, “Well. young lady, first let’s see how your online journal’s coming along, because this bowl of food won’t do much for your digital inclusion, will it?”

Theresa May asked about woman who has 4p to her name due to Universal Credit

This is such an improvement on a system that prioritises keeping people fed, because with the new method, people on benefits will be capable of a variety of IT techniques as soon as they come out of the coma they collapsed into from malnutrition.

As Universal Credit develops, it can encourage other skills, so to get help if your electricity has been cut off, you have to screw your application form into a ball and dribble it through a line of cones before kicking it into a bucket. That way you can soon come off benefits and earn £5m a year as a winger for Manchester City.

The forms could even be in Sanskrit to encourage jobseekers to learn new languages.

And this could be the reason for the six-week wait before any benefits are received: to encourage foraging skills, and learning hunter-gatherer techniques that will be useful in seeking employment. In a competitive environment, if two people apply for a job at a call centre and only one knows how to make a spear out of mud and kill a deer, you know which one will be taken on, and they’ll be thankful for that six-week training in survival skills.

This is why there’s no such thing as clerks or benefit officers any more. Everyone on benefits has “coaching workers” and “work coaches” and “employment-aspiring abandonment of erstwhile parasitic tendency to be replaced with enthusiasm for labouring gainfully despite a recent quadruple heart bypass operative”.

Liz Truss struggles to defend the 55p a minute universal credit helpline charge

This is why Theresa May’s response to any complaint about the cruelty of the new system is that “we must make sure work pays”. So as long as being out of work is depressingly, cruelly miserable, the system’s working. The office where you apply for benefits should be in a field full of stinging nettles, and claimants should have to run there naked to prove work pays.

“You write, they don’t reply, you can’t get through, I was told I had to get into arrears with the landlord before they’ll help. I’m ashamed but today I got vouchers for a food bank,” said a disabled woman on a phone-in yesterday. Then she started crying, which is marvellous, because it shows what a tremendous success the scheme is proving to be.

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