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View from the House: Fighting to stop 'stupid' Universal Credit

PUBLISHED: 12:30 04 October 2018

Chris McAndrew (Creative Commons licence CC BY 3.0)

When the Conservative Liberal Democrat coalition announced plans to introduce Universal Credit back in 2010, they said that merging six existing benefits into one would reduce child poverty, simplify the social security system and ensure work always pays.

Fast forward eight years and that couldn’t be further from reality. Universal credit has been an absolute mess, haemorrhaging money and devastating lives. I’ve already written to the secretary of state for Work and Pensions Esther McVey urging her to cancel plans for a full rollout to all postcode areas across Haringey, scheduled for October, yet I haven’t even had the courtesy of a response.

The coalition’s decision to combine implementation of the already complex scheme with savage cuts to work allowances and welfare benefits has exacerbated, rather than reduced, poverty. As the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said this month, Universal Credit “has left too many people worse off, putting them at risk of hunger, debt, rent arrears and food banks. When Universal Credit comes into a local area, the number of people going to food banks goes up”. His words are a damning indictment of a system that should help vulnerable people, not maKe their lives more difficult.

I believe the system is so flawed that, despite the hard work Haringey Council and lead member Cllr Zena Brabazon are putting in to try and mitigate the impact and support residents through the transition, some of my most vulnerable constituents will be hit very hard. We’ve already seen what’s happened elsewhere, with the High Court ruling against the Department for Work and Pensions recently in the case of two severely disabled men, one who was terminally ill, who lost £178 a month when they were moved over from the old-style benefits to Universal Credit. This discrimination was deemed to be unlawful, but their cases aren’t unusual and if nothing changes they won’t be the last. I want to see Universal Credit halted until a credible plan is put forward.

Data from the House of Commons Library has shown that 113,000 people on Universal Credit weren’t paid in full on time last year. That’s a quarter of new claims, an outrageous statistic when you consider these are people on low incomes who don’t have savings to fall back on. Delays to the payments they are fully entitled to can’t be brushed off by this arrogant government as an inconvenience. They cause real hardship, physical and mental ill-health, force people to build up debt, fall into arrears, with significant numbers of people reporting receiving eviction notices and resorting to food banks to feed their families.

This government cannot dismiss the warnings any longer. The National Audit Office’s latest report on Universal Credit is damning, stating that “the project is not value for money now, and that its future value for money is unproven.” It concludes “that there is no practical alternative to continuing with Universal Credit.” Pressing on and throwing more money into a system that doesn’t work is reckless and stupid. I won’t stop fighting for it to be halted.

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