I congratulate my hon. Friend Ruth George on securing this debate. Leigh has been a pilot area for universal credit since 2013, so as a representative of a northern town with extensive experience of universal credit, I can say with certainty and after countless surgeries that it is driving people into poverty, into food banks, and into debt.
We know that universal credit is not working because a recent report by the Association of Retained Council Housing found that in the north of England, 75% of universal credit households were in arrears, compared with 39% of non-universal credit households. In our local authority, universal credit tenants have £1.9 million of rent arrears, which is a shocking £534 per tenant on average. Those are not isolated cases; that is caused by the failing system. With a 97% likelihood of local universal credit claimants falling into arrears, only a total and fundamental overhaul of our welfare system will suffice.
The hard reality facing those going on to universal credit is a choice between a lengthy delay for the first payment or an unaffordable loan that only kicks the can of financial hardship further down the road. Since universal credit was introduced in Leigh, my mailbox has been full of individuals desperate to receive assistance because, through no fault of their own, they have found themselves let down by a system that is so complicated that they struggle to navigate it. How do the Government respond? The Minister can take one of two paths: either he will listen to the facts, stories and experts, or he will follow the Chancellor’s example and claim there is no crisis. For the sake of my constituents who are tackling mounting debt, I sincerely hope he will choose the former path.