Universal Credit and Debt — [Sir Henry Bellingham in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:01 pm on 5th June 2019.

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Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 3:01 pm, 5th June 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. I congratulate Ruth George on securing this debate.

In Inverness and the highlands, we have had universal credit for six years. Thanks to the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, we were already suffering from austerity. There was one food bank in Inverness. With the addition of universal credit, problems rocketed. We now have a food bank in every quarter of the city and beyond. My constituents face choosing between buying clothes for their children, switching on the heating and putting food on the table.

Other hon. Members will recommend changes, but given the extremely limited time that I have, I will focus on the debt accumulated for every single household in Highland, and give a warning to hon. Members who are dealing with universal credit in their constituency case-loads. Highland Council has incurred debts, directly attributed to universal credit, of £2.5 million. Of those debts, £600,000 is directly due to administrative costs resulting from universal credit. The details of those costs have been provided to the Minister and the UK Government. They have said in written answers to questions that no council should bear an additional burden or debt as a result of universal credit, yet it is a fact that this debt is out there.

It is incumbent on the Minister and his Government to sort this out now for the people of the highlands, to repay the money that those people are due, and to ensure that councils across the rest of Scotland, and the other nations of the UK, are not similarly burdened. This shambolic roll-out of universal credit continues to cause harm in people’s homes and to their health, and to harm those who are not directly involved in universal credit.