Stirling Observer

Work should pay more than benefits


I am in favour of welfare reform. Universal Credit is a good idea; It should pay more to be in work than to be on benefits and it should be a gradual transition from one to the other. I have not met anyone who does not agree with that principle.

The old system created situations where many people were better off on benefits and penalised for working. This was because payments (especially housing benefit and jobseekers allowance) were stopped as soon as people started earning over a certain amount. This trapped people in a system that was rigid with inbuilt disincenti­ves to progress into full time employment.

The new Universal Credit amalgamate­s six different benefits into one monthly payment making it simpler. It also includes a taper, ensuring that the benefit amount is reduced gradually as earnings increase.

I firmly believe that it is fundamenta­lly important for those able to do so to support themselves and their families. People want a system that helps them live independen­tly rather than trapping them in a benefits culture they do not want. While Government should support people to be personally independen­t through helping them to get into work it must continue to support those who, through no fault of their own, cannot.

The same system that provides an effective pathway to work must be just as effective at supporting those that find such a pathway denied to them. This is a fundamenta­l Government responsibi­lity.

There are problems with the new system, but that is hardly surprising given the scale of the programme. Universal Credit is a long overdue change, one that has for too long been avoided by successive government­s as being too difficult. It must be completed. We should continue the reform while fixing the problems.

Currently there is a six-week period before you receive your initial payment; this is a problem if you do not have previous earnings or any savings. I have made the case, along with others, that this needs to be changed and be as short as possible, ideally no more than four weeks. It is not acceptable that some payments are taking even longer than six weeks, this must not happen.

The Government understand­s the difficulty waiting for an initial payment can present. That is why there are advance payments available in such circumstan­ces. This needs to be paid back, usually over six months but that can be extended to nine or even 12 months if needed.

I have raised these issues in the House of Commons and to Ministers directly. I will continue to do so. I fully support scrapping any phone charges incurred while claimants seek help and advice, that is the right thing to do, it was wrong to levy them in the first place.

There are other legitimate concerns about the requiremen­t to claim online only. Some people will need support to navigate that process and across Stirling’s rural areas we still have some locations that suffer from slow or non-existent connection­s. This is another reason why all our communitie­s urgently require reliable digital connectivi­ty.

Our voluntary organisati­ons are vital, they offer invaluable advice and support, in turn they must receive effective support from both local and national Government. I am delighted that the Citizens Advice Bureau is producing its “Plain English” guide to benefits, this will be extremely useful.

As always, my office is ready to support people who have issues through the benefit system and anyone who is struggling with a claim or feels they have received poor service should get in touch with me by emailing or phone 01786 475 034.

The old system created situations where many were better off on benefits

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