Will they ad­mit it’s not work­ing?

Ben­e­fits sys­tem fail­ing fam­i­lies

Sunday Sun - - Comment&analysis -

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?

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