South Wales Evening Post
Universal Credit (UC) is supposed to simplify and streamline the benefits system by putting Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credit, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance and Working Tax Credit, into a single registration and payment mechanism.
So far, so good. We have no problem in principle with anything that makes our welfare state and social security more effective and less complicated.
But the proof, as always, is in the pudding. And the fact is that the way in which the UK government has handled the set-up and roll-out of Universal Credit has been a total disaster, from start to finish.
Our experience from constituents is that there has been a noticeable increase in hardship from the early claims made by single people. Many have been left for up to 7 or 8 weeks without any payment. Often families are stepping in to provide some support but not all individuals have families who can do this.
Already people in the UC system have reported facing destitution, relying on foodbanks to survive, while they wait for their payment, all the while debt is mounting up around them, rent arrears are accrued and the threat of eviction becomes a real possibility.
The system has in-built delays, designed to mimic employment practices where people are paid in arrears. Under UC people are expected to wait 5 to 6 weeks, but the reality is people are waiting much longer and in some instances 12 weeks. So far UC has only been applied to the most straightforward claims but the system has struggled to deal with these applications. Now the clock is ticking as the Government presses ahead with the roll-out of the system to cover all claims. The roll-out is already underway in Neath and Port Talbot, Swansea will follow in December leaving many with the prospect of no money over Christmas.
The problems with UC are so evident that 12 of the Government’s own MPs have urged the Secretary of State to stop the roll-out. While Dame Louise Casey, a former top adviser, has warned that families ‘close to the edge’ will ‘end up in dire circumstances’ should the roll-out go ahead. She has warned that we are ‘looking at more and more people that are ending up homeless, or ending up having their kids taken away, or ending up in more dire circumstances.’
Without addressing the problems that have been identified to them, UC will create deep-rooted problems for families across the Swansea Bay area and long term problems that will be far more difficult to resolve and increasingly costly.
The Government have refused to pause the roll-out, disregarding the wealth of evidence that shows UC is not working, instead they have offered that the DWP will fast track advance payments for people in immediate need. But this is a sticking-plaster solution as the payments have to be repaid, causing financial hardship further down the line.
Our constituent have faced delays, worry and hardship because of a system that is not fit for purpose. Those on UC, advice providers like Citizens Advice and Welfare Rights, experts, and politicians from across the political divide can all see that the system is seriously flawed. The Government is sleepwalking towards a disaster of its own making, and we can only hope that they will wake up to reality, before it’s too late.
Theresa May claims that she wants to ‘build a country that works for everyone’, she should start with halting the roll-out of Universal Credit.
Written by Stephen Kinnock, MP for Aberavon; Tonia Antoniazzi, MP for Gower; Christina Rees, MP for Neath; Carolyn Harris, MP for Swansea East; and Geraint Davies, MP for Swansea West