Halt the rollout of Universal Credit
In a few weeks time, on December 6, we will see the rollout of one of the UK Government’s flagship policies, Universal Credit.
It’s a payment to meet living costs and replaces a number of existing benefits including Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowances and Working Tax Credits.
As a result, the new payment consists of a basic “standard allowance” and extra payments that depend on individual circumstances. For example, you may be eligible for extra payments if you have children, you are disabled or you care for someone.
However, the policy is deeply flawed. The Conservative Government has faced widespread criticism about its plans for pressing on with this despite its faults and there have been repeated calls for it to be halted.
In particular, those who find themselves having to apply for Universal Credit on or after December 6 face having to wait up to six weeks before receiving any benefits.
That is six weeks without vital support during an already financially challenging period.
Christmas and New Year does bring a lot of joy to families across Scotland but it can also bring budget worries.
A six-week delay will put many people in Scotland under financial pressure and possibly facing destitution. If you are already living on the breadline, you cannot sustain this length of time without any support.
In areas where the scheme has been piloted, the six-week payment delay has led to recipients having to rely on emergency grants and food banks to afford basic necessities.
According to Citizens Advice Scotland we have seen a 15 per cent rise in rent arrears issues in the pilot areas, compared to a national decrease of two per cent.
There has been an 87 per cent increase in Crisis Grant issues, compared to a national increase of only nine per cent.
And two of five bureaux in impacted areas have seen a 40 per cent and a 70 per cent increase in advice about access to food banks.
It is also worth remembering that over the festive period many of the vital charities and agencies that those in need will turn to may be closed for a well-earned break.
I recently attended a planning meeting for one of the local foodbanks within the region.
Already they are trying to plan for what they predict might happen once Universal Credit is introduced and are reviewing the support that they can provide. This is yet another challenging prospect for many organisations who are already facing financial pressures.
I have real fears that people across the region will be facing serious hardship during their six-week wait, especially over the month ahead.
There is a real potential for people to be in a position where they are unable to provide heating and food, never mind the festivities that are associated with Christmas.
While the idea behind simplifying the benefits system and ensuring work pays has merit, this cannot be at the expense of pushing people into debt, often leaving them vulnerable to loan sharks and high interest lending.
Already the Citizens Advice Bureau has helped more than 100,000 people. Universal Credit in its current form is forcing more people in debt, which they will find it difficult to recover from.
That is why the Scottish Parliament, with the exception of the Scottish Conservatives, has voted to demand its rollout in Scotland is halted.
We cannot ignore the evidence that shows it will cause damage to some of the most vulnerable members of our society. The UK Government must listen.
Real fears that people will be facing serious hardship during their six-week wait