Stop ‘dis­as­trous’ roll-out of Univer­sal Credit, May urged

Pres­sure grows to halt flag­ship pol­icy set to cost mil­lions of peo­ple £2,500 a year

The Herald - - FRONT PAGE - MICHAEL SET­TLE UK PO­LIT­I­CAL ED­I­TOR

THERESA May has been called on to halt the “dis­as­trous” roll-out of her Govern­ment’s flag­ship Univer­sal Credit (UC) pol­icy af­ter a new re­port claimed it would leave 3.2 mil­lion peo­ple across the UK £2,500 a year worse off.

The SNP, which made the call, claimed UC – which re­places six ben­e­fits – was “not fit for pur­pose” and de­manded ur­gent changes, in­clud­ing re­in­stat­ing the work al­lowance and lift­ing the ben­e­fit freeze.

Philip Ham­mond is be­ing called on to use the Bud­get later this month to forego in­come tax cuts for the bet­ter off and to put an ex­tra £2 bil­lion back into UC to boost the liv­ing stan­dards of al­most 10 mil­lion par­ents and chil­dren in work­ing fam­i­lies.

Po­lit­i­cal pres­sure is now mount­ing daily on the Chan­cel­lor to act. On Mon­day, MPS will ques­tion Es­ther Mcvey, the Work and Pen­sions Sec­re­tary, about UC and on Wed­nes­day Labour has a Com­mons de­bate on the sub­ject.

The Joseph Rown­tree Foun­da­tion, a so­cial re­search char­ity, said its new anal­y­sis showed that al­most three mil­lion chil­dren were now locked in poverty.

This was de­spite liv­ing in a work­ing fam­ily and de­spite Bri­tain’s record high em­ploy­ment rate.

It pointed out that cuts an­nounced in the 2015 July Bud­get meant 3.2 mil­lion house­holds would typ­i­cally be around £50 a week worse off on UC com­pared with tax cred­its.

Camp­bell Robb, the Foun­da­tion’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, said: “Ac­tion in the Bud­get this month would mean work­ing fam­i­lies keep more of their earn­ings and feel the ben­e­fit in their pock­ets just one week af­ter Brexit [when the new fi­nan­cial year be­gins in April].

“Al­most 10 mil­lion peo­ple in fam­i­lies with chil­dren would see this boost; a big step towards tack­ling the burn­ing in­jus­tice of in-work poverty.”

The Foun­da­tion pointed out that the OBR, the Govern­ment’s in­de­pen­dent eco­nomic fore­caster, had es­ti­mated it would cost £1.4bn to raise the tax-free per­sonal al­lowance to £12,500 and the higher rate thresh­old to £50,000 in 2020.

“This money,” it said, “would be bet­ter spent help­ing to pay the lion’s share of in­creased work al­lowances.”

Neil Gray, for the SNP, said: “The Tories must call an im­me­di­ate halt to the dis­as­trous roll-out of Univer­sal Credit.

“It has pushed fam­i­lies into poverty and left mil­lions of peo­ple poorer and worse off.

“In its cur­rent form UC is sim­ply not fit for pur­pose.

“It re­quires ur­gent and rad­i­cal changes, in­clud­ing the re­in­state­ment of the work al­lowance and an end to the ben­e­fit freeze.”

The party’s so­cial jus­tice spokesman added: “Af­ter a decade of failed Tory cuts it is vi­tal the UK Govern­ment uses the forth­com­ing Bud­get to end aus­ter­ity, re­verse the cuts to so­cial se­cu­rity, and de­liver mean­ing­ful in­vest­ment to boost house­hold in­comes.”

Ear­lier this week, two former prime min­is­ters in­ter­vened in the row.

Sir John Ma­jor de­manded cuts to UC be re­versed and cau­tioned that the Govern­ment could trig­ger “the sort of prob­lems that the Con­ser­va­tive Party ran into with the poll tax” if it did not ur­gently ad­dress the prob­lems.

Gor­don Brown de­liv­ered a sim­i­lar warn­ing, call­ing for the roll-out to be halted, a re­view un­der­taken and emer­gency help for fam­i­lies in need.

He said the Govern­ment’s ap­proach was “chaotic, cruel and vin­dic­tive,” and went far be­yond aus­ter­ity.

How­ever, Damian Green, the

former work and pen­sions sec­re­tary, de­fended it, ar­gu­ing UC was a “huge im­prove­ment” on the pre­vi­ous sys­tem, hav­ing helped thou­sands of peo­ple into work.

And he in­sisted the pol­icy’s roll-out would con­tinue. He de­fended his suc­ces­sor, Ms Mcvey, claim­ing she had not mis­spo­ken when she said on Thurs­day that UC would leave some re­cip­i­ents less well off.

Ms Mcvey re­port­edly told cabinet col­leagues that many claimants could lose as much as £200 a month.

She also told the BBC: “I have said we made tough de­ci­sions and some peo­ple will be worse off.”

In­sist­ing that ev­ery ef­fort would be made to pro­tect the most vul­ner­a­ble in­di­vid­u­als, she said the Govern­ment was plan­ning to spend £3.1bn on sup­port­ing peo­ple who are af­fected by the change to the new sys­tem. And she claimed that ben­e­fits re­form was help­ing more peo­ple re­turn to work.

Mr Green said: “What Es­ther was say­ing was that peo­ple would be re­ceiv­ing less ben­e­fit but they will do that if they are earn­ing more be­cause their work­ing hours have gone up or they have had a pay rise or so on. The whole point of UC is that ex­tra work al­ways pays and that is the ad­van­tage .”

The Kent MP added that, while the sys­tem would un­dergo “tweak­ing” dur­ing its roll-out, it was “very im­por­tant we keep with it”.

● Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May is com­ing un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure over Univer­sal Credit.

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