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It is a great pleasure to follow Mr Gyimah, who manages to expose both the extremism and the opportunism of the current Government. There was a time in history when some parliamentarians were given four hours to speak in the Chamber. Today we get four minutes, so I am sure Members will forgive me if I concentrate on one of the many issues that is missing in this Queen’s Speech—or, should I say, the phantom Queen’s Speech, since we know it will not really be enacted.
I want to touch on a subject that is of great concern to my constituents and without which I do not believe we will have any economic justice, which is the need for the total overhaul of universal credit. I am cautious about calling for things to be scrapped, but the current set-up is so irredeemable that that is probably the only remedy. The ridiculous waits of five, six or more weeks were always going to lead to debt and inhumane food bank usage. The creation of a system where housing payments did not go to landlords was always likely to create a nonsensical set-up, which my grandmother would probably have referred to as money down the drain. Tied in with that is the random, ineffective and, in some cases, downright inhumane ways in which people with terminal conditions are assessed.
My constituent Jenny puts it rather better than I can, and this is a metaphor of what has gone wrong. She writes:
“In June I was told I needed to apply for universal credit, moving my existing housing benefit claim and child tax credits over from the Council and HMRC to Universal Credit. I was told that there was a 5 week assessment period, followed by a 1 week payment verification period so 6 weeks. My Child tax credit was stopped completely leaving me with no income for 6 weeks. When I complained, they said I could loan the money but needed to repay it. I was initially advised by the Job Centre to apply for Job Seekers Allowance even though they didn’t think I was eligible and they were vague. I ended up complaining. Then I was advised to apply for both Jobseekers Allowance and Universal Credit. They said it would be back dated to June and corrected if wrong.”
On and on this continues:
“Weeks passed and my Universal Credit was calculated. They are taking £120 per month from me for the ‘loan’
of money so I get this instead of receiving child tax credit. Technically I have lost out on 6 weeks of child tax credits. It’s a lot of money to lose, people are still eligible for it, yet it’s been stopped for 6 weeks. Now I’m expected to pay back this loan that I was forced to take to feed my children while they take their time assessing what they already have on record.”
So this continues. She now says:
“I’m just going through a few tests at the moment as I’ve been immobile and in severe pain with my spine. I have to provide proof of medical appointments, private Osteopath receipts and NHS reports which are private. A sick note from a qualified GP won’t do. I’ve also had to deliver my GP sick note in person as they will not allow me to email it to them. I live in a village and it can be difficult to get to town when I’m in debilitating pain and on strong medication. Susan, I hope you can raise these points in the House of Commons as in this day and age, no families with young children should be forced into debt by Universal Credit and the Government. There are families left in debt depending on food banks etc once their Universal Credit loans are deducted. All this has a terrible effect on people’s mental health and I feel the system is just trying to trip people over with sanctions.”
The Government may have warm words, the Prime Minister may even have words in Latin—well, I have a few in English and Welsh that I could give back to him. [Interruption.] No, no, I don’t swear, but I will tell you this: it is about time we had a Government who listened to people such as Jenny and who combined prosperity and social justice in this country.