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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to contribute to this very important debate. It is interesting to follow Richard Graham. I am sure 38 Degrees will want to run all their campaigns past him in future. Actually, I think the lines he read out are absolutely true. People are expected to go five weeks without money. I will be responding to those campaigns with sympathy and agreement.
Ministers have taken what was an agreed principle to simplify the benefits system and have lost the support of the House. We have heard Government Members willing to raise criticisms today, but it is a shame that they will not have the courage to support the motion on the Order Paper and to uncover the evidence that Ministers have but the House does not. I raise these issues today because of what I see on the streets of Liverpool and in my office.
I see this issue very much in the context of austerity. Universal credit, since the cuts of the former Chancellor, is now another vehicle for austerity. Those cuts are ploughed on top of 64% cuts to Liverpool’s local authority. There are now reports that Liverpool has the second-highest levels of destitution in the whole UK. Our local authority has to spend £50 million on benefit support services and £3 million on benefit maximisation, and it has spent £1 million over the past two years topping up housing payments for already inadequate benefits to stop people being put on to the streets. That is the context in which universal credit is being implemented in my constituency.
In June, the National Audit Office found that
“Universal Credit is failing to achieve its aims, and there is currently no evidence that it ever will.”
This is not social security as we know it or as it should be. It is not a safety net for our most vulnerable constituents and it is certainly not a welfare state. It is a modern-day digital workhouse for people like my constituent Ann, in Everton, who went 10 weeks without any payment. When she was in distress, she was told to go to the local foodbank. When she could not work the online system, she was sanctioned for three months in a row.
For me, this is all about getting to the bottom of the issue facing our most vulnerable constituents. Nothing less than stopping the roll-out of universal credit to fix the problems will do.