Re­vealed: Scots study blames ‘dis­grace­ful’ Uni­ver­sal Credit for rise in food­bank use

Sunday Herald - - 29.10.17 NEWS - BY PAUL HUTCHEON

ADAMNING report has linked the dis­as­trous roll-out of the UK Gov­ern­ment’s Uni­ver­sal Credit pol­icy to in­creased rent ar­rears and a rise in the num­ber of food­bank re­fer­rals.

The bleak as­sess­ment, by Stir­ling Coun­cil, also makes clear there has been an in­crease in ar­rears for home­less peo­ple who use tem­po­rary ac­com­mo­da­tion.

SNP MSP Ma­ree Todd said: “Uni­ver­sal Credit is driv­ing peo­ple into hard­ship and ruin­ing lives. Peo­ple can’t find the means to make ends meet, to pay their rent or even feed them­selves. It’s lead­ing more and more peo­ple to turn to food­banks just to sur­vive. That is an ab­so­lute dis­grace and should deeply shame the Tory party, who are pre­sid­ing over a cal­lous and puni­tive wel­fare regime.”

Uni­ver­sal Credit was de­signed to re­place six means-tested ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing Hous­ing Ben­e­fit, Child Tax Cred­its and Job­seeker’s Al­lowance. The De­part­ment for Work and Pen­sions (DWP), led by Tory Cabi­net Min­is­ter David Gauke, is re­spon­si­ble for the pol­icy. How­ever, the roll­out has been plagued by dif­fi­cul­ties, such as claimants hav­ing to wait weeks for their first pay­ment.

In the Stir­ling Coun­cil area, the ‘Uni­ver­sal Credit full ser­vice’ (UCFS) be­came op­er­a­tional in late June for all new claims re­lat­ing to work­ing-age peo­ple who are in or out of em­ploy­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to a report to be pre­sented to a coun­cil com­mit­tee next month the pol­icy has had a neg­a­tive im­pact on vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple.

The doc­u­ment flags up a “con­se­quen­tial in­crease” in the num­ber of food­bank re­fer­rals, es­pe­cially from in­di­vid­u­als wait­ing for their first Uni­ver­sal Credit pay­ment.

An “in­creased risk of po­ten­tial home­less­ness”, due to de­lays in hous­ing costs be­ing awarded, is also high­lighted. Coun­cil­lors will be told of an in­creased de­mand for dis­cre­tionary hous­ing pay­ments, which are made to peo­ple strug­gling to pay their rent. Spe­cific num­bers are con­tained in the report, such as an in­crease in rent ar­rears among ten­ants who are claim­ing Uni­ver­sal Credit, from £13,018 on roll­out day to £58,321 at the end of Septem­ber. Ar­rears for home­less ap­pli­cants in short-term ac­com­mo­da­tion stood at £135,339 on Oc­to­ber 8, com­pared with £93,595 at the be­gin­ning of July.

The report added: “The im­pact of UCFS has placed pres­sure on the Scot­tish Wel­fare Fund. From the 28 June 2017 in­for­mal ev­i­dence would sug­gest 237 Cri­sis Grants have been is­sues to­talling £37,486.02.”

Todd said: “Stir­ling is an ut­terly de­press­ing case in point. Just three months into the full ser­vice Uni­ver­sal Credit and rent ar­rears have more than quadru­pled and hun­dreds of peo­ple are de­pend­ing on cri­sis grants to get by.”

Stir­ling coun­cil­lor Chris Kane, who is the con­vener of the Com­mu­nity Plan­ning and Re­gen­er­a­tion Com­mit­tee, said: “Uni­ver­sal Credit was rolled out in Stir­ling on June 28. The im­pact was im­me­di­ate, it was sig­nif­i­cant and it is get­ting worse. A de­tailed report will be pre­sented at the Com­mu­nity Plan­ning and Re­gen­er­a­tion Com­mit­tee in Novem­ber, but for now I want to as­sure any­body af­fected by the in­tro­duc­tion of Uni­ver­sal Credit that Stir­ling Coun­cil’s of­fi­cers will do all they can to help.

“We’ve been plan­ning for the im­pact of the roll out of uni­ver­sal credit for months and our ser­vices are cop­ing, but it is be­com­ing clear that the im­pact is as bad as we had feared.”

A De­part­ment for Work and Pen­sions spokesman said: “This re­search is fo­cused on a small group of claimants. The vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple re­ceive their first Uni­ver­sal Credit on time and in full. The best way to help peo­ple pay their rent and to im­prove their lives is to sup­port them into work and un­der Uni­ver­sal Credit peo­ple are mov­ing into work faster and stay­ing in work longer than the old sys­tem.

“We also know that over time peo­ple ad­just to man­ag­ing monthly pay­ments, and re­duce their ar­rears.”

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