Will they admit it’s not working?
Benefits system failing families
Gateshead’s Ian Mearns is among a number of MPs to have urged the government to delay the introduction of Universal Credit in the North East IT’S easy to see how Universal Credit seemed like a good idea.
But the new benefits system has left people unable to pay their rent and turning to foodbanks to feed their families.
The question now is whether the Government will admit things aren’t working out quite as planned, or simply press on regardless.
The idea of Universal Credit was to take all the means-tested benefits and tax credits currently available for working-age people and replace them with one simple benefit. That includes Housing Benefit, for example.
It was first introduced in 2013, but it’s being rolled out across the country slowly. It is not expected to be fully introduced until 2022.
But the change has revealed some problems.
For example, there’s a delay between people moving to the new benefit and getting the first payment. And when benefits make up a large part of your income, surviving without them for a few weeks can be a problem.
Newcastle Council told a House of Commons inquiry: “We think that Universal Credit can place some vulnerable residents at risk of destitution and homelessness.”
And the body which manages Newcastle’s council houses said Universal Credit claimants were more than £1m in arrears on their rent.
Liverpool City Council reported “an increasing number of citizens contacting the service for assistance through local welfare provision, to provide funds for food and other essentials”.
The council, already dealing with funding cuts, said it was “encountering significant financial losses” because it was having to provide temporary accommodation for people who had been made homeless.
The Trussell Trust, a charity which provides foodbanks, said demand had risen in areas where Universal Credit was introduced.
It said: “In 2016-17 foodbanks in areas of full Universal Credit rollout saw a 16.85% average increase in referrals for emergency food, more than double the national average of 6.64%.”
Yorkshire Housing Association said it was concerned about the number of claimants with arrears above £1,000, and the number was “quickly escalating”.
MPs have urged the Government to delay plans to introduce Universal Credit to parts of the North East in November and December, saying it’s not what people need at Christmas.
A letter to the Department for Work and Pensions was signed by North West Durham Labour MP Laura Pidcock; Helen Goodman, Labour MP for Bishop Auckland; Ian Mearns, Labour MP for Gateshead, and Kevan Jones, Labour MP for North Durham.
But will Ministers listen?