Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:44 pm on 8th March 2017.

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Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Transport) 6:44 pm, 8th March 2017

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The Budget could have been an opportunity to stop that manifest injustice, but it is another failure. The shambolic universal credit roll-out is pushing women who are returning to work, low-income families, the disabled, those looking for work and the most vulnerable into desperate situations.

By the start of the Chancellor’s statement today, four people had visited my constituency office in tears over universal credit. The DWP service standard for universal credit applications is supposed to be six weeks, but in reality that is the minimum that most people wait. People usually have to wait for months.

I received an email at 11.15 am today from a constituent, Natalie:

“Dear Drew,

I’m writing with an update to the ongoing case.

I attended the jobcentre appointment on Monday morning to advise that the issue with the Childcare payments had still not been attended to. At that point my journal entries had still not been read. I had also been advised for the 3rd time, by the UC call centre, that a mistake had been made and would be escalated urgently. 9 days had passed since I was told this would be corrected.

At the job centre I met with a gentleman”—

I will call him Mr X.

“I first explained the problem, he could also see…the notes from the UC call centre agents agreeing that a mistake had been made. He then looked further into the system and noticed that my most recent declaration of childcare was not on the system. This caused major confusion as there are notes on the system referring to the most recent one, along with the invoices and receipts being on the system. Also, none of the previous 4 agents I had dealt with had flagged up the…declaration was missing. At this point”

Mr X

“decided to add the declaration himself. A message then comes up on the screen to say that the declaration has not been made within the award period. Which essentially means it will not be paid. At that point…the JobCentre manager looks into it and also agrees that the notes from the agents indicate that they are aware a mistake has been made and it needs to be dealt with.”

He

“raises the issue with the UC…manager. He then phones me to advise that he has to escalate the issue even higher as no one has responded to his request to look into the matter.”

Natalie finishes by saying:

“It’s now the morning of the 8th, still no resolution. This issue was raised on Friday 24 February, the date that payment was due. The date that any errors need to be corrected to enable…payment to be issued within the award period. Since then I have been continually fobbed off. Admittedly I am…fobbed off in the politest of ways with each and every person advising that they are going to help and have this addressed within 24hrs. It’s now been 287hrs since my original phone call and I’m still waiting.

I’m at my wits’
end here. I’ve followed their procedure, none of them are following theirs.”

Do not take my word for it or, indeed, Natalie’s. Citizens Advice says:

Universal Credit is failing to live up to its promise. Right from the outset people have experienced problems…delays to claims and errors in their payments.”

As I have said, my team and I see that for ourselves every single day, with people facing months of anguish and hell.

The Chancellor could have helped people today, but he has not. He has failed to take any action, other than to tinker with the taper rate, which will not stop the continuing and damning litany of failure, confusion and heartache, or the crushing drive to increase poverty that the universal credit system is creating. It is a shambles. There are long delays to payments, short payments, lost sick notes, misplaced documents and data, and failures to respond, and there is confusion between departments and crushed morale. Please spare a thought for the poor Jobcentre Plus staff at the centre of this. There is an inability to act on common sense.

In Inverness, we held a roundtable with the local welfare support team, the housing department at Highland Council, Citizens Advice and local DWP staff, to try to deal with this mess. The problem is not with local staff; it is with the system. I have invited the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to come to my constituency to hear these people and see what is happening at first hand, but to date I have had no response. Perhaps the Chancellor would like to come to see what the failure to address the problems with universal credit is actually doing.

The introduction of the universal credit full service is failing. It is adding to poverty for children and families, and it is time to halt it. Today’s Budget will simply accelerate poverty and suffering.