Universal Credit — [Geraint Davies in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:29 pm on 19th April 2017.

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Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Transport) 3:29 pm, 19th April 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I, too, congratulate Catherine McKinnell on securing this debate. We always say that debates are important, but this debate is vital for people who are suffering through the universal credit full service roll-out.

My constituency of Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey was one of the pilot areas, so we were ahead of the game in terms of the full service roll-out. We have seen the effects of it on real people and the Minister will be aware that I held an Adjournment debate on those effects, giving many case studies. We do not have the time today to go through many of them, but I will touch on one.

There are still the same problems that there were at the time of that earlier debate, and still the same problems that there were when we were originally scheduled to have this debate. The UK Government should listen and halt this faulty roll-out. People are going months without money; the roll-out is increasing poverty. It is hitting the most vulnerable the hardest, and it is causing real harm. In my constituency, we now have well over a hundred cases of people with universal credit issues, and those are just the people who have reached out to us as an MP and his office. Many more people are going under the radar. Also, there are new people visiting my office every day.

I want to refer to one person, Rachael, who came to see me. She went 16 weeks without payment. At the time she sought our support, she was 22 weeks pregnant and also had a three-year-old daughter to look after. Her pregnancy left her very unwell, but she was still told to travel to Aberdeen, which is 100 miles away, because it was not accepted that she had the correct national insurance number for universal credit purposes. She was fainting and had other symptoms due to the pregnancy. She had virtually no money left, and what little she had she was using for food and warmth as she could.

Rachael could not afford to go to Aberdeen and was scared of going 100 miles without any support, which caused her significant mental distress. She even had a letter from her midwife saying that she was unfit to travel. She was already in receipt of child tax credits and child benefit without any issues arising. Until a couple of weeks prior to contacting us, she had been in work and paying NI, and even though the NI number was never contested for universal credit purposes, she had paid NI and also had a P45 after leaving that employment.

Eventually, and following my intervention, it was agreed that Rachael could attend a face-to-face interview at the jobcentre in Inverness, and she has now started receiving payments. However, her story is symptomatic of the stories of many other people who face making long phone calls to get through to people, causing them high phone bills. Departments are unable to communicate, conflicting information is given, and delivery partners are unable to speak directly with Department for Work and Pensions colleagues.

I have asked the Minister to come to my constituency to speak to the staff at the citizens advice bureau and to the partners that the UK Government have employed to deal with this issue, such as Highland Council. Justin Tomlinson should come to the highlands as well to speak to people there, because he will find a very different reception to this roll-out. The DWP staff and jobcentre staff are under enormous pressure; it is not fun to work there.

I do not have much more time today to say what I would like to say. There is much, much more that I could put to the Minister. This roll-out is devastating the lives of people in my constituency, and it is coming to other constituencies. It is a shambolic roll-out, which means hardship and pain; it is simply brutal to people. There has been no sign that the Tory Government are capable of listening or caring, especially on issues such as the rape clause. The Minister could listen to people; he could visit; he could learn; and he could and should stop the roll-out. He can fix it and treat people with dignity. Will he agree to do so today?