MPs CALL­ING FOR HALT ON UNI­VER­SAL CREDIT

Wales On Sunday - - NEWS - GAVIN COR­DON Press As­so­ci­a­tion news­desk@waleson­line.co.uk

MIN­IS­TERS are fac­ing fresh de­mands by MPs to halt the mass roll-out of Uni­ver­sal Credit (UC) un­til they can en­sure no more claimants are pushed “over the edge” and into debt.

The cross-party Com­mons Work and Pen­sions Com­mit­tee warned the sup­port of­fered to claimants trans­fer­ring to UC was “woe­fully in­ad­e­quate” and risked un­der­min­ing the whole project.

The re­port piles pres­sure on Chan­cel­lor Philip Ham­mond, who is fac­ing calls from a num­ber of Tory MPs to pro­vide ad­di­tional cash to ease the tran­si­tion to the new sys­tem when he de­liv­ers the Bud­get to­mor­row.

It comes just days af­ter MPs on the Com­mons Pub­lic Ac­counts Com­mit­tee ac­cused the Depart­ment of Work and Pen­sions (DWP) of turn­ing a “deaf ear” to the con­cerns of claimants fac­ing “un­ac­cept­able” lev­els of hard­ship.

Work and Pen­sions Sec­re­tary Es­ther McVey in­sisted the sys­tem, which is in­tended to en­sure work al­ways pays, was help­ing the job­less into em­ploy­ment, but ac­knowl­edged there was change”.

The warn­ings fol­low re­peated com­plaints that low in­come fam­i­lies and in­di­vid­u­als in ar­eas where UC has been in­tro­duced are be­ing driven into debt be­cause of de­lays in is­su­ing the new pay­ments.

In its re­port, the Work and Pen­sions Com­mit­tee said the DWP’s sys­tem of “uni­ver­sal sup­port” which is sup­posed to help claimants adapt to UC, which merges six ben­e­fits into one, fell far short of what was needed.

Vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple needed more than the sin­gle two-hour ses­sion of “per­sonal bud­get­ing and dig­i­tal skill sup­port” they were cur­rently en­ti­tled a need to “adapt and to if they were to main­tain claims un­der the new sys­tem.

“Given the scale of chal­lenges that many claimants face, this is woe­fully in­ad­e­quate,” the com­mit­tee said.

It said the DWP needed to de­velop a new “flex­i­ble, dis­cre­tionary ap­proach to debt man­age­ment” be­fore mov­ing to the na­tional roll­out of UC due to be­gin in mid-2019.

“Cru­cially, the depart­ment must not pro­ceed with trans­fer­ring ex­ist­ing claimants on to Uni­ver­sal Credit on a large scale un­til this ap­proach is func­tion­ing ef­fec­tively,” it said.

It added: “DWP de­signed Uni­ver­sal Credit. So it has a duty to en­sure their that it works for claimants and the lo­cal ser­vices which sup­port them.

“As the chal­lenges of man­aged mi­gra­tion loom, the depart­ment faces a crit­i­cal de­ci­sion.

“Fail­ure to over­haul uni­ver­sal sup­port sub­stan­tially now will place not only the well-be­ing of claimants, but the suc­cess of the en­tire Uni­ver­sal Credit project, at risk.”

Com­mit­tee chair­man Frank Field said: “Uni­ver­sal sup­port is not ‘uni­ver­sal’, and it hasn’t been of­fer­ing much in the way of sup­port.

“DWP must not push one more claimant on to Uni­ver­sal Credit un­til it can show that it will not push them over the edge.”

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