Universal Credit

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:28 pm on 17th October 2018.

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Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 1:28 pm, 17th October 2018

The Opposition Front Bencher obviously made a decision about the length of their speech, and I am doing my best to get through what I have to say.

Yet jobcentre staff told Jordon’s Mum that his claim could not continue until he signed his claimant commitment—[Interruption.] I think it important that Members listen to this, because I am talking about someone with an acute mental health condition. If he did not sign, he would have to apply for jobs from his hospital bed if he was to avoid a sanction. At what level is that not an abuse? I am not criticising jobcentre staff; they do the very best they can while implementing a disastrous policy from this UK Government. I suggest that the experience of frontline jobcentre staff rather differs from what Ministers would have us believe.

Universal credit, in its current form, is doing real damage to individuals and families. It is not just me saying that; experts are calling for change. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation says that cuts announced in 2015 will mean that 3.2 million households will typically be around £50 a week worse off on universal credit compared with tax credits.

Policy in Practice said this month that almost two in five households on universal credit will lose an average of £52 a week and that some 2.8 million households will see their income cut. Gingerbread says that the cuts to work allowances mean that the average single parent will lose £800 a year, and some will lose £2,000. Figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest that 91% of single parents are women, so they are being disproportionately affected once again. Trussell Trust data from March shows that in areas of full universal credit roll-out foodbank use was up by 52%, whereas analysis of foodbanks yet to receive the roll-out showed the rise to be 13%.

Shelter Scotland submitted evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Communities Committee last year, stating that the UK Government’s

“ongoing roll out of Universal Credit, the benefit cap reduction and the capping of housing benefits...directly threaten tenancies and risk pushing more people into homelessness.”

Other expert groups are demanding change, included the Resolution Foundation, Macmillan Cancer Support, Together for Short Lives—I could go on and on. The Scottish Government are using what limited powers they have to influence change, but as I have already said, we cannot continue to mitigate the mess forever.

So what needs to change? At the Budget, the Chancellor should start by investing to lift the benefit freeze, restore work allowances, scrap the two-child limit, lift the application waiting time, reduce the clawback from advances, sort the self-employed income floor, cut sanctions and restore the ESA work-related activity group and the disability components of UC. There should then be a halt to the roll-out until a fundamental review of universal credit is carried out, which should look at areas such as the digital-only approach, implicit consent, introducing split payments, rethinking the way people with mental health problems interact with the system and fixing the problems with the assessment period.

The problems with universal credit are fundamental and are causing misery, but they are problems that can be fixed with political will. This afternoon is the first test of that political will. We need to see the Government’s analysis and the papers should be released. When that confirms what we all know, this House should unite and force the desperately needed change.