Uni­ver­sal Credit roll out will have dis­as­trous con­se­quences

Kentish Gazette Canterbury & District - - Letters And Opinion -

Uni­ver­sal Credit has been in the news re­cently and, though the con­tro­versy might sound bor­ing or ir­rel­e­vant to some­one who has never been on ben­e­fits, it is a vi­tally im­por­tant is­sue for many con­stituents.

What is it? Well, it’s a sin­gle monthly pay­ment for peo­ple in or out of work that re­places some of the ben­e­fits and tax cred­its that they might be get­ting now, in­clud­ing Child Tax Credit, In­come Sup­port, Hous­ing Ben­e­fit, Work­ing Tax Credit, In­come-based Job­seeker’s Al­lowance, In­com­ere­lated Em­ploy­ment and Sup­port Al­lowance.

In the­ory the idea of re­plac­ing this lot with just one pay­ment sounds good, but the way in which the Tories have rolled out the scheme in trial ar­eas has been sham­bolic to say the least, and the six-week de­lay be­fore pay­ments are made is caus­ing a great deal of hard­ship.

On Oc­to­ber 18 I spoke about my con­cern over Uni­ver­sal Credit in the House of Com­mons and ex­plained to MPS and min­is­ters the prob­lems that we face here in Can­ter­bury.

The Cit­i­zens Ad­vice Bureau says half the peo­ple it has helped with Uni­ver­sal Credit had to bor­row money while wait­ing for their first pay­ment.

While the gov­ern­ment may claim that its ad­vance pay­ment sys­tem helps claimants over the six-week wait, these pay­ments are, in fact, loans.

Many peo­ple on Uni­ver­sal Credit al­ready strug­gle with debt and to of­fer them a fur­ther loan is com­pletely in­ap­pro­pri­ate.

We know that some of those hard­est hit by wait­ing times are sin­gle par­ents. I have per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence here. I know how hard it is to raise chil­dren, on your own, while on ben­e­fits. I know what it is like to be in debt, to have to feed chil­dren while know­ing that any money com­ing in is al­ready owed to some­one else.

These prob­lems are hap­pen­ing be­cause of in­com­pe­tence, con­fu­sion and un­ac­cept­able de­lays.

There are also prob­lems be­cause the gov­ern­ment won’t re­con­sider the move away from di­rect pay­ment of rent to land­lords.

I be­lieve that ten­ants should be able to have the hous­ing part of their Uni­ver­sal Credit paid di­rectly to their land­lord.

I am wor­ried that when the ben­e­fit rolls out in our area next April it will be a dis­as­ter.

Lo­cal char­i­ties and agen­cies are pre­par­ing for the worst. Al­ready we have seen the clo­sure of the Job­cen­tre in Whit­stable and now those in the town seek­ing ad­vice on Uni­ver­sal Credit will have to travel on ex­pen­sive buses to Can­ter­bury or Herne Bay (that is un­til the Herne Bay Job­cen­tre also closes next year).

This gov­ern­ment is tak­ing ad­vice off the high street and on to phone lines; peo­ple are con­fused, stressed and go­ing hun­gry.

Liz Truss, the Trea­sury Sec­re­tary, says she wants to en­cour­age peo­ple to go to their lo­cal Job­cen­tres rather than use the gov­ern­ment’s pre­vi­ously 55p-a-minute hot­line. Well, af­ter Labour pres­sure the gov­ern­ment even­tu­ally agreed to make the hot­line free, but it is still not fit for pur­pose.

That’s why I will carry on urg­ing min­is­ters to pause the roll­out of Uni­ver­sal Credit and think again about how best to build a ben­e­fit that works for all.

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