Universal Credit

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:00 pm on 17th October 2018.

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Photo of Gordon Henderson Gordon Henderson Conservative, Sittingbourne and Sheppey 2:00 pm, 17th October 2018

I will not give way again because I do not have time. I pointed out that such people could visit the local jobcentre, where they would be able to use one of the bank of computers installed there. In addition, they would be helped to navigate the system by a member of staff or a volunteer from one of the voluntary organisations that are now based in the jobcentre.

Of course, there were people who faced other difficulties, so I asked the food bank to provide me with details of those people so that I could get somebody to contact them to investigate and take up their cases with the DWP. When we received that information, we discovered that many of the people were living in a local hostel that provides temporary accommodation for homeless adults. A member of my staff contacted the people concerned and it soon became obvious that some of them suffered from underlying problems that affected their ability to manage the transition to UC, and that forced them into using the food bank. Those problems included drug addiction, alcoholism, mental health problems, an inability to manage money, or plain fecklessness. Automatically blaming their problems on UC, which is what the Opposition appear to be doing, is doing those people no favours. If somehow the delivery of UC could be made perfect overnight, that would not make them any less dependent on drugs or alcohol. It would not solve their mental health problems. It would not help them to manage their money better and it would not make them less feckless. Of course, we have to do something to help those people, but the truth is that they would still have the same problems, whatever benefits system was put in place.

Luckily, such people are in the minority. However, there are some people who have genuine concerns, which leads me nicely on to the faults in the system that I mentioned at the beginning of my speech. My No. 1 concern is the five weeks’ delay in the receipt of the first benefit payment made under UC. I urge the Department to look at whether there is a way in which that can be phased in over a longer period. Of course, people can get an advance payment, but some people are simply unable to manage that money well enough for it to last five weeks, so again, I ask for that to be looked at. I know of claimants, by the way, who spend the money in the first week and then have to resort to food banks for the remaining weeks.

The second problem is the repayment requirement for an advance payment. That is something else I would like the Department to look at to see whether it could be done over a two-year, rather than a one-year, period. The third problem is that under the legacy system, claimants were provided with a letter confirming what benefits they were receiving. Under UC, that is not provided and I would like that to be changed if possible. The final thing, which I have taken up with the NHS, is that there is no box for UC on the back of prescriptions, and I would like that to change as well.