Spotlight On ‘Challenges Of Universal Credit’ In New Play

By Ollie Cole, Freelance News Editor 26 Oct 2018

The challenges and choices facing people released from prison, including applying for universal credit and the possibility of homelessness, will be explored in a new play due to tour London throughout November.

Rising, written by Femi Keeling, is the story of Terrence, who has just been released after a short prison sentence. He’s full of hope, but faced with battles against the system and demons from his past: he’s on the edge.

The topical storyline sees the lead character face the challenge of applying for universal credit, and the difficult choices he must prepare for as a result. The piece will also look at the “shocking ease” with which someone may face homelessness.

What Does Universal Credit Mean For Our Human Rights?

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey (left). (Cropped) Credit: Flickr/Gareth Milner

Universal credit is a social security benefit that forms a core part of a long-running programme of welfare reform instigated by the Conservative Party, which aims to save £18 billion.

The reform has been the source of controversy among politicians and civil society. The Public Accounts Committee, a select committee of MPs that scrutinises government spending, argues that universal credit is causing “unacceptable hardship and difficulties” in a new report.

The move to universal credit also raised concerns over possible human rights implications, with many claiming the system is discriminatory.

The new benefit is paid on a monthly, household basis, whereas traditionally benefits have been paid to individuals every two weeks. The Women’s Budget Group argues the change reinforces the idea of a male breadwinner, discourages second earners and is likely to increase women’s financial dependence on their partners. The Home Affairs Committee, and women’s rights NGOs including Refuge and Women’s Aid, have been very critical of universal credit, arguing that it enables perpetrators of domestic violence to use money as a tool to control their partners’ lives. Domestic violence is a clear violation of article 3 of the Human Rights Convention, the right to be free from inhuman or degrading treatment.

Article 14 of the Human Rights Convention protects us from discrimination on the basis of age, gender or ethnicity.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Esther McVey, announced a delay to universal credit’s roll-out last week to allow more time to resolve some of the issues that have arisen during its implementation.

The Department for Work and Pensions also said they had already announced “several improvements” to universal credit this year, such as “plans to reinstate housing benefit for vulnerable 18-21 year olds, making direct payments to landlords, offering 100% advances and providing an additional 2 weeks of housing benefit for claimants.”

Where Can I See The Play?

City Hall, London. Credit: Flickr/Garry Knight

Theatre company Cardboard Citizens will take Rising to hostels, prisons, day centres, refuges, and youth centres across the capital as part of its outreach programme working with people most at risk of, or affected by, homelessness.

The cast, which includes Cardboard Citizens’ Member actors with experience of homelessness, is comprised of Shona Babayemi, Carrie Rock, Greg Shewring and Andre Skeete.

The company is one of the world’s leading practitioners of Forum Theatre, and has toured hostels, day centres and prisons for more than 26 years, bringing theatre to the most marginalised in society.

(it) made me feel like I had fire in my soul.

Leoni, a prisoner at HMP Peterborough

The audience will be empowered to change the outcome of the piece too, meaning that every show is a unique experience.

After watching, they will have the chance to voice their opinion and offer ideas that might change the course of the characters’ lives, and watch as the story is rewritten in front of their eyes.

Leoni, a prisoner at HMP Peterborough, said the piece “made me feel like I had fire in my soul.”

“Compassionate and thought-provoking,” said Mark Snelson, the manager of Doncaster Foodbank of the play, “it has the potential to change attitudes and make a difference.”

The public can see Rising in a live stream from London City Hall, where the play will be performed as part of an evening launching the Mayor of London’s Winter Homeless Fundraising Campaign.

The live stream will take place on 27 November, on the Mayor of London’s website.

About The Author

Ollie Cole Freelance News Editor

Ollie is a freelance News Editor for RightsInfo and multimedia journalist. He specialises in broadcast, online, and photography, and has had work published in a number of regional and national outlets.

Ollie is a freelance News Editor for RightsInfo and multimedia journalist. He specialises in broadcast, online, and photography, and has had work published in a number of regional and national outlets.