A universal problem

Written by Kate Shannon on 27 October 2017 in Comment

Unless it is managed properly, Universal Credit is going to push yet more into destitution and poverty, writes Kate Shannon

Money: Picture credit - Fotolia

Another week, another barrage of bad news. The past few weeks have been dominated by harrowing accounts of sexual harassment and abuse following the accusations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, and the subsequent ‘me too’ hashtag which showed just how prevalent this kind of behaviour is in our society.

In the midst of this, MPs debated another difficult subject, one which is causing pain and problems for thousands of people – Universal Credit. 


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Universal Credit is a new single payment for working-age people which merges six benefits into one. It replaces income support, income-based jobseeker's allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, housing benefit, child tax credit and working tax credit.

It has been introduced in stages to different groups of claimants over the past four years, with about 590,000 people now receiving it through about 100 job centres.

Recently ministers approved an extension of the programme to 45 more job centres, with another 50 added each month.

The UK Government has said the whole point of the new system is so no one is in the situation where they would be better off claiming benefits compared to working.

However, there have been serious problems with its rollout and some chilling stories have emerged where the system has been trialled. 

The Highland Council area is one such place and local SNP MP Drew Hendry has told of the issues he faces on a daily basis which are concerned with Universal Credit. He has said 60 per cent of his constituent casework in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey is related to the system. He recently told the Guardian: “We’re ahead of the curve. We discover new problems every day. It is a disaster.

“We see short payments, missed payments, lost paperwork, incredibly poor communication between the DWP and the job centre, whose staff are not allowed in many cases to speak to the person within the DWP to find a solution.”

One of the serious problems arising is the fact that almost a quarter of all claimants have had to wait more than the usual six weeks to receive their first payment in full because of errors and problems evidencing claims. 

This has led to reports of people getting into rent arrears and a chain reaction of debt which is leading to serious hardship for families.

Labour, the SNP and the Lib Dems called for the rollout of the system to be paused until these problems are resolved but ministers  insisted that it is “safe to proceed” and that anyone facing financial problems can apply for advance payments.

In the non-binding vote, the Government whipped Tory MPs to abstain to avoid a humiliating rebellion.

Meanwhile, the Department for Work and Pensions said the system is working with the majority of recipients telling them they were comfortable about managing their finances.

However, while the UK Government might feel these changes are ready to be rolled out across the country, the reports from people experiencing the new system, and those working to help them, tell a different story.

Unless it is managed properly, Universal Credit is going to push yet more into destitution and poverty. Scrapping charges for using the Universal Credit helpline is a start but there’s so much more that needs to be done. Surely taking a minute to pause and ensure the system works properly would be sensible, rather than risk the lives of some of our most vulnerable people

 

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