Here’s my contribution to this week’s debate on Universal Credit. There was so much to say on this issue, but we were only granted three minutes to speak.
If you are a constituent and are experiencing any problems with Universal Credit please don’t hesitate to contact me. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call my office on 01633 841725.
On behalf of all the constituents who have contacted me about a range of difficulties to do with their experience of the universal credit system, I reiterate the calls in this debate to halt the roll-out, fix the problems identified so far, and fully fund this policy so that universal credit claimants do not bear the brunt of the Government’s cuts.
Following the Secretary of State’s alleged remarks to the Cabinet that some families will be £200 per month worse off, which is a significant loss, she is now talking about a slower managed migration that will start later next year, and claims to be listening and learning along the way. Well, I do not want my constituents, particularly those with disabilities and mental health problems being moved from ESA on to Universal Credit, to have to go through hardship so that the Government can learn from them; I want the Government to learn the lessons now.
This is clearly not a system that is ready for the full migration. New claimants and people with changes to their circumstances—the roll-out started with them—should be the easier cases, but we have already seen long delays in processing and payment, driving people to food banks, with social landlords and private landlords reporting not only a dramatic increase in people going into rent arrears but bigger arrears. I urge the Minister to look at the evidence on this from Community Housing Cymru, and specifically to look at the issue of the two-week run-on of housing benefit, which is not always working in my constituency cases.
As Mind has pointed out, there is huge anxiety out there among those who are going from ESA on to Universal Credit. Mind says that the Government safeguards for vulnerable people are not good enough. I say that on behalf of a constituent who is hugely worried about the process. Housebound, with no computer, they have to apply for universal credit and, without very close support, they are at risk of losing the benefit. No one should have their benefit stopped until their universal credit claim has been successfully submitted.
I ask the Minister to look at the specific issue of under 25-year-olds with children who are being paid at the under 25-year-olds’ rate, not at the normal rate as under tax credits. That will increase child poverty.
I want to raise the issue of a single mother in my constituency who loves her permanent, part-time job in a school. She is being trained up, with the potential shortly to go full-time, but she is being told that she has to give that up and take on full-temporary retail work in the run-up to Christmas, with no guarantee of work afterwards. Why is this in anyone’s interest? Making someone in work worse off is not work progression.
I have huge respect for DWP staff out there having to deliver this. It is the policy that is flawed, and I know they are doing their best, despite the cuts, to help people. We should thank them. As a constituent said to me yesterday, there is nothing wrong with the idea of simplifying the benefits system, but instead it is being used as an exercise in saving money at the cost of those who can least afford it. It is time to halt it, fix it and put the funding in.