Yesterday, Stephen addressed a meeting of Twickenham Constituency Labour Party on the topic of Universal Credit. As the centre piece of the Government’s welfare reform programme, Universal Credit replaces six means tested benefits, rolling the provision into one monthly payment. Stephen explained that even though the concept driving this change is sound, the delivery of the new benefit has been grossly mismanaged, causing severe hardship and driving many further into poverty.
The blueprint for change was set out by the Coalition Government in 2010. Iain Duncan Smith – then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions - outlined his intention to deliver the changeover to Universal Credit by October 2017. To date, the migration from JSA and ESA benefits has not yet begun and the Government now admits that the full process will not be completed until 2023. In reality the wait could be much longer still.
Speaking after the event, Stephen said: “There was total naivety in Government about the scale of the change they were embarking on back in 2010. Nine years later, chickens have come home to roost and the most vulnerable are saddled with a punitive system which drives them into poverty. Those claiming UC must wait at least five weeks to be eligible for their first payment. Increasingly, because they have nothing else to live on, claimants are receiving advanced payments from the Government, so they are in debt right from the very start of their claim. The Government should pause the Universal Credit roll out and fix the problems before it causes further hardship”.
A recent written answer from the Department for Work and Payments revealed that 57% of Universal Credit applicants receive an advance payment. These payments are loans which claimants must begin to repay after their first benefits cheque is received. The link between the problematic roll out of Universal Credit and the increasing rise in foodbank use has recently been admitted by the Government.