MPs CALLING FOR HALT ON UNIVERSAL CREDIT
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.”