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Problems are universal

The difficulties facing people on Universal Credit are widely known. Claimants are faced with a wait of six weeks or more before they receive their first payment.

One of the critical components of UC is the housing element which replaces housing benefit (or local housing allowance for private tenants).

An application for UC is treated as a new claim which means somebody who has been receiving housing benefit finds it stopped. This means that, unless they have some savings, they fall into rent arrears.

People without savings find it difficult to extricate themselves from debt, which, in this case, is no fault of theirs.

Even though advance payments can be issued it is a loan which has to be repaid over six months.

The scale of the problem can be seen by what is happening in Swindon. According to information given to the Swindon Benefits Strategy And Welfare Reform Group, 50 per cent of rent arrears of council tenants is owed by the 977 tenants in receipt of HB - £600,000, an average of more than £600 each.

This is lost to the Housing Revenue Account, which is short of money needed to maintain council housing.

Even more worryingly, there are 3,000 working age tenants in Swindon still to transfer to UC. Imagine the potential arrears likely to be accrued when these people move on to UC.

UC has to be completed online. Libraries are helping people with their initial claim, but the October Welfare Reform Group was told that “claimants are struggling to maintain their digital journals” which record everything they do. “Claimants need support in maintaining claims.”

Concern was raised at the meeting that the libraries that were being transferred from ownership of Swindon Borough Council were being advised that their broadband connection was being closed and the PCs removed.

The impact of the wait for money has been reflected in the report from Swindon’s Foodbank of an increase in visitors, many of whom have said that they were there because of UC.

In the case of people who have been receiving HB before they move on to UC, the question is why is their HB stopped? What logical reason could there be to place poor people under severe stress induced by not being able to pay their rent?

We know Swindon Council staff are chasing up people on UC, pressing them to pay their rent at a time when they have no benefit income, and many of them little or no money.

It is the height of bureaucratic stupidity and callousness to treat people in this way.

There is little more worrying than the prospect of being turfed out of a house because of rent arrears.

Surely it would make sense when a UC claim is made for the person/household’s HB/LHA to continue to be paid to the landlord so that they are not thrown into arrears.

If any adjustment had to be made then it could be done when the claim was complete and the claimant was receiving their payments.

MARTIN WICKS, Welcombe Avenue, Swindon

Roads will be safer

It’s good to see Swindon Borough Council will be using current technology to improve parking enforcement efficiency and road safety, “They’re coming to get you”, (front page headlines SA November 1).

We were informed Swindon’s new parking enforcement camera car will be driven around streets to identify offenders by use of an automatic number plate recognition system.

The report began by saying: “The council could soon be dishing out a lot more parking tickets on the streets of Swindon”.

Of course, if drivers abide by the Highway Code, don’t park where they shouldn’t and adhere to time restrictions the council can’t dish out any parking tickets.

Apart from freeing up parking spaces in residents’ permit areas, this automatic number plate recognition system has the potential to make our roads much safer.

A council spokesman said: “The car will also be used for enforcement in other areas where there are known parking issues such as outside schools, which will help with safety at those locations.”

In some parts of the borough parking enforcement is so infrequent that certain drivers know they can break parking regulations, on a regular basis, but have a negligible chance of being caught. Hopefully, this new system will catch these persistent offenders.

Swindon Borough Council has recently introduced an online system for members of the public to report the registration number and location of vehicles which ignore parking regulations.

The report didn’t say whether this is part of an integrated system which provides information to the camera car. Since there is a logical connection between these two procedures I assume they have been set up to share data.

By using this technology Swindon Borough Council have taken a progressive step to help improve road safety and tackle anti-social behaviour.

I hope it proves to be successful and delivers positive results for the borough.

K KANE, Wharf Road, Wroughton

Praise for poet

I AM just following up on your piece in Wednesday’s Adver about Carl Burkitt.

Carl went to Ridgeway School with my son Graeme McGinn between 1999 and 2003. They were best friends and spent a lot of time together.

Sadly my son Graeme died on May 8, 2004 courtesy of our ‘wonderful’ NHS. and Carl was devastated.

He came to the funeral and every May 8 since he sends us a card to say how much he is thinking of us and his friend Graeme.

On what would have been Graeme’s 25th birthday, Carl sent us a poem about how he remembers Graeme not only on his birthday but every day.

The poem is beautiful and it takes pride of place on the wall in what was my son’s bedroom.

Whenever I feel down I go in and read the poem and although it makes me cry it reminds me of what a great friend Carl was to my son and how lucky Graeme was to have Carl as a friend.

Carl is just a fantastic guy and he needs as much support as possible for his charity.

TONY McGINN, Goldsborough Close, Eastleaze, Swindon

No harm in a slap

Thursday night’s Question Time was a joke. The panel was made up of prissy little “do gooders” who want to interfere with ordinary folks’ lives by changing the law to suit their own ends.

First we had the panel criticising the elected Government of Spain for jailing Catalan politicians who broke the law.

They broke the law because it didn’t suit their ends, by doing so they made themselves criminals.

Who are we to interfere with an elected Government of a country just because we think its wrong?

Then we had views expressed about the law in Scotland to make it a criminal offence to slap your child for misbehaviour.

Like most of my generation I was slapped when I got out of line. Did it do me any harm? No, it taught me a lot about life. Not the least was not to do whatever I was slapped for.

It was a way of teaching discipline and of learning right from wrong. It didn’t do me any lasting damage.

Just before I left school I had to go to the headmaster’s study for the cane. His words just before giving me six of the best were: “Collins, contrary to popular opinion this is not going to hurt me more than it will hurt you.”

It proved true. It taught me not to get caught again. And it proved that my headmaster had a sense of humour.

Did I suffer nightmares over it? No. Did it damage me? No.

If we carry on like this we will be bringing a whole bunch of idiotic sissies into the world.

Don’t beat the child but a slap at the right time will, I believe, work wonders.

DAVID COLLINS, Blake Crescent, Swindon

We need living wage

THIS week is the Living Wage Foundation’s annual celebration week which will hopefully add to the current 3,500 employers who pay the Living Wage of £8.45 an hour.

First and foremost income inequality arises in the workplace and it is here that remedies must start, including steps to lower pay ratios, paying the living wage and restricting top rates of pay as well as promoting trade union and employment rights.

Whether ‘just about managing’ or not, the evidence indicates how the gap between the rich and the poorest creates problems for everyone.

Sadly, the UK fares badly on any scale of inequality – health, social mobility, children’s welfare and crime and punishment, as well as trust in the community.

Despite the current low UK unemployment rates, we also offer some of the lowest pay when compared with other developed countries.

More than 20 per cent of the UK working population take home less than the living wage.

Locally, some Swindon businesses pay the living wage minimum.

It may be a week for bonfire celebrations but let us also champion the flame of the Living Wage Foundation.

PAUL SUNNERS, Swindon Equality Group

No more Radio 1

NICK Grimshaw has been recorded as having the lowest Breakfast Show listener figures ever.

This is not a surprise.

I am no longer a Radio 1 listener for three reasons:

1. They play the same six popular tunes in a loop.

2.They keep employing Northerners, despite the massive majority of our country being Southern born and based.

3. They keep wittering about reality TV which anyone over the age of puberty doesn’t care about.

I wouldn’t tune into any station that played one awful modern song every ten minutes followed by endless guff if I was paid.

ROGER LACK, North Swindon