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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:31 pm on 5th June 2019.

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Photo of Melanie Onn Melanie Onn Labour, Great Grimsby 3:31 pm, 5th June 2019

I congratulate my hon. Friend Ruth George on securing this important debate. With the best will in the world, this seems to have become a state-devised system that, by its design, drives people into gross financial hardship. We have heard about the difficulties of the five-week wait, and about the 40% repayment rate on any debt that occurs. We have not talked about the advance up-front costs of childcare payments and the 85% payment that can be obtained through universal credit.

My constituent is 21. She is a single parent and has an apprenticeship in a doctor’s surgery. She is paid the lower apprenticeship rate, and takes home just £111 a week. She has to pay her childcare upfront. The element of childcare provision in her UC was suspended, and because she obviously required that childcare, she ended up with more than £2,000 of debt. Only the fact that her parents could bail her out helped her through that difficult situation, and an intervention from my office subsequently got that money repaid.

How can we have a system that drives people into debt? There is undoubtedly a link between the two things. It could be rental debt; a local housing association stated that after the launch of universal credit its rent arrears increased immediately, and that as of June 2018, UC claimants accounted for 40% of its overall rent debt. That cannot be allowed to continue. In 2009-10, 350 people used the local food bank, but recent figures suggest that that number is now 2,525. That food bank is now so overburdened that it will have to close to focus on its core system—something has to change.