Universal Credit roll out will have disastrous consequences
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.