Stephen has spoken in an Opposition Day debate in the House of Commons. His speech was part of Labour’s attempts to force the Government to publish its analysis of the impact of Universal Credit on people's incomes. The motion was defeated 299-279. This means the Government does not have to reveal the findings of its assessment.
The debate was held after the Secretary of State, Esther McVey, reportedly told colleagues that millions of families would lose £200 a month under the system. She later admitted to the BBC that “…some people would be worse off”. The Government had previously said no-one moving onto Universal Credit would lose out.
Universal Credit has been subject to long-running criticism that the planned managed migration of people to the new system will leave vulnerable people at risk. Speaking in the House of Commons, Stephen argued that “…of all the many flaws in Universal Credit, the worst is the five week delay between claiming and being entitled to the benefit. Ministers can only justify that delay to people who’ve just left monthly paid job and have a month’s salary in the bank. The reality is a very large proportion of people do not - they’re weekly paid, they’re on zero hours contracts. Five weeks without support is not a realistic – or acceptable - feature of this benefit.”
Stephen went on to outline some of the implications of Universal Credit that have been observed so far including the “rocketing demand” for Foodbanks and rent arrears. “This is not the way to treat our fellow citizens,” he said. Stephen also criticised the government’s lack of flexibility, saying that ministers had developed a “tin-ear” to warnings over the last 8 years. He urged the Government to stop the rollout until the problems with Universal Credit have been fixed.
During the debate other MPs raised concerns about how the current regulations will allow existing benefits to be terminated without necessary safeguards, about the lack of protection for the most vulnerable, especially families, disabled people, the sick and victims of domestic violence.
Speaking after the debate, Stephen said: “The principle behind Universal Credit is a sensible one. But there are huge problems with the way it’s being implemented. The first is that Universal Credit does not have enough money in it, secondly the computer system doesn’t yet work properly, and thirdly it’s got a lot of detailed features in it which are just wrong.
“These problems are causing chaos and misery for many people in Newham. But Ministers are refusing to listen. The roll-out of Universal Credit must be paused.”