Credit where credit’s due for Street
Midlands who are living in temporary accommodation, sofa surfing or living in hostels.”
Universal Credit was only one of the issues raised by the mayor. Others included the need to “increase the supply of affordable, accessible housing”, to provide work for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness and to ensure charities and businesses knew what they could do to help.
Mr Street also argued that the Government was listening to concerns.
He said he had worked with charities to lobby Ministers and, “after looking at proposals in detail and listening to the sector”, the Government agreed that all 18-21 year-olds would continue to have access to Housing Benefit.
But the implied criticism of Universal Credit chimes with warnings issued in stronger terms by a range of inquiries and charities.
Universal Credit replaces six existing benefits – Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit – with a single payment.
The Government says the new benefit is designed to help people get into work. It is also designed to ensure people have a higher income when they do work, while under the old system people could find that they lost so much in benefits that getting a job, or working more hours, didn’t make economic sense.
However, critics say that the benefit has led to an increase in poverty.
Claimants have to wait up to five weeks for their first payment, and while they can get an advance payment much sooner than this, the advance is a loan that must be repaid. MPs say some constituents have suffered hardship because they received incorrect payments.
And for some people, the total amount received has simply been cut.
In a damning report earlier this year, the Trussell Trust said Universal Credit helped explain why foodbank use had shot up.
The charity distributed 119,946 three-day emergency food parcels in the West Midlands between April 1 2017 and March 31 2018.
This was up from 41,396 in the 12 months up to March 31 2013 – before the new benefit.
The National Audit Office, the official spending watchdog, warned in June that Universal Credit may cost taxpayers more than the complex benefits system it replaced.
It published a report warning the Government has no way of measuring whether the new system is achieving its goal of getting more people into work.
At least 270,000 claimants are expected to receive their payments late in 2018, likely to cause them serious financial problems, the National Audit Office said.
At the moment, residents in most parts of the country who start claiming benefits, or whose circumstances change, are put on to Universal Credit.
In 2020 the Government will begin moving large numbers of claimants who receive the older benefits onto the new system.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn criticised Universal Credit in the House of Commons this week. Theresa May, the Prime Minister, responded by arguing that the Government had made changes to the benefits system when needed.
In his ConservativeHome article, Mr Street said employers could be given more support to encourage them to employ homeless people, including those with what he called “complex needs”.
He said: “At a business breakfast recently, I was asked, ‘what can we do to help rough sleepers?’ I challenged the audience to hire someone who was homeless into their business.
“A few weeks later, I met a café owner in Birmingham who had been there that morning.
“She told me that she had taken on the challenge and had employed a homeless man to wait tables in her café.
“She had known the challenges she might face as an employer, but had taken a risk to do the right thing.
“SIFA Fireside, a homeless charity in Birmingham, runs a programme called ‘Work It Out’ which supports SME [small and medium sized] employers in taking on those who are or have been homeless.”
The mayor warned fellow Tories: “As Conservatives, we must make good on our promises to reduce homelessness and rough sleeping in the 2017 Election Manifesto.
“We should not shy away from this issue because it is difficult, but we should redouble our efforts to create a society where no-one has to be without a home to call their own.”
The top reason for homelessness is the ending of assured shorthold tenancies
> West Midlands Mayor Andy Street