Universal Credit — [Geraint Davies in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:41 pm on 19th April 2017.

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Photo of Eilidh Whiteford Eilidh Whiteford Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Social Justice and Welfare) 3:41 pm, 19th April 2017

I think a profoundly concerning picture has been painted for us today of how the roll-out of universal credit is proceeding in practice. I warmly congratulate Catherine McKinnell on focusing her attention on that, and I am glad we have had the opportunity to debate these issues prior to Dissolution. She and the other Members who have spoken have constituencies that have been at the forefront of the full roll-out of universal credit, and they have outlined a litany of problems that are having a severe impact on the people affected—problems that are causing immense hardship, debt and insecurity and are putting huge, unnecessary and wholly avoidable pressure on other public agencies.

Many of those problems were widely predicted. For example, a range of stakeholders—everyone from social landlords to homelessness charities and those working with disadvantaged groups—warned that the full service roll-out was likely to lead to a sharp rise in rent arrears and evictions. Many warned that the move to monthly payments could lead to hardship for people on very low incomes. Unfortunately, from the testimony of MPs this afternoon, those fears were well founded. Some of the other problems highlighted today, such as the unacceptable delays in receiving payments, the exorbitant cost and prolonged call handling problems with the telephone helpline, were not anticipated, in that they are not policy changes, just failures of the system. People claiming universal credit in the full service roll-out areas have been human guinea pigs in the process and are paying a heavy price.

Two key issues have arisen today with the delays in payments. First, even if the system was working perfectly, many claimants would wait six weeks for any money. That is an excessively long wait for new claimants, particularly when we know that people rarely claim as soon as they become entitled to benefits. Usually they exhaust their savings or redundancy package.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—