The Universal Credit crisis has led to people sleeping on floors, as foodbanks plead for more donations, MPs said today.
Days after a bruising vote in favour of “pausing” the government’s flagship welfare reform, an emergency debate heard shocking stories of hardship caused by problems with the policy.
Seema Malhotra, Labour MP for Felton and Heston, told the Commons delays in initial payments had forced some of her constituents into destitution.
“One of whom, a mother of three, [is] currently sleeping on her cousin’s floor evicted from her home because of non payment of rent due to Universal Credit delays,” Malhotra said.
And Labour’s Frank Field, chair of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, said a foodbank in his Birkenhead constituency had contacted partners in Universal Credit test areas to find out how it had affected them.
“On that basis, they suggest in the coming year, not just Christmas, they need to raise an additional 15 tonnes of food,” Field said.
Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke didn’t attend the debate, with the government instead represented by minister Damian Hinds.
Hinds responded to Field: “We do not expect for these things to happen because we want the system to work as well as it can. We continue to evolve and improve the system.”
But Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams, who requested the debate, urged the government to respond to calls to “pause and fix” Universal Credit.
And she laid out her four demands:
- Ending the six-week wait for the first payment;
- Making available alternative payment arrangements to claimants and clearly publicising them;
- Re-evaluating the Job Centre closure programme which will see 70+ centres shut down this year;
- And ensuring a predicted under-spend on benefits is reinvested - for example, to eliminate a two-child limit.
Hinds responded: “In every phase and in every respect, the development of Universal Credit has been all about enhancing the way it helps you get into work and get on in work.
“Already Universal Credit is transforming lives and we want more families to benefit from the satisfaction from the self esteem and from he financial security that comes from a job, a better job and a career.”
On Saturday, HuffPost UK revealed Universal Credit’s “hidden” raid on the self-employed that could cost around 800,000 strivers as much as £1,500 a month in lost benefits.
The plight of self-employed people on the system was mentioned during the debate.
“I’m really, really concerned about what it is going to mean to them,” Abrahams said.
The MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth also mentioned the effect of the reforms on disabled claimants, who she said would become isolated as payments disappeared.
Last week, the Commons backed Labour’s advisory motion calling for the controversial welfare changes to be put on hold by 299 votes to nil.
Conservative MPs abstained from the vote, although Tory MP Sarah Wollaston sided with Labour.
During the debate, Wollaston made plain her discomfort with how the policy was working in areas where it had been trialled.
She said: “Why are we undermining a policy with potential to change lives for the better by not addressing a fundamental flaw at its heart? We have heard many compelling cases today and we cannot ignore them.”