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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:37 pm on 5th June 2019.

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Photo of Danielle Rowley Danielle Rowley Labour, Midlothian 3:37 pm, 5th June 2019

I congratulate my hon. Friend Ruth George on securing this debate, on her fantastic speech, and on her fantastic, dedicated work on welfare. She is a tireless campaigner.

As many of today’s contributions and evidence from Citizens Advice Scotland have shown, debt is built into the universal credit system. My hon. Friend Debbie Abrahams spoke about survivors of domestic abuse, and I too wish to focus on that important area. Survivors of domestic abuse often flee relationships with little or no resources, and often after being subjected to economic abuse. For them, the five-week wait is particularly damaging. Although advances are available, that is a loan that must be paid back.

The charity Refuge recommends that survivors of domestic abuse be exempt from repaying advances, as the initial period after fleeing an abusive relationship can be costly. People often have to buy a lot of possessions and set up a new home and a new life. If they have to repay an advance, their future income will be heavily reduced. I hope the Minister will consider that issue and tell me his thoughts.

As I have highlighted previously, single household payments can easily be used by coercive or abusive partners to trap people in an abusive relationship. Rent arrears accumulated under single payments mean that survivors have restricted options when they are fleeing, and it is common for landlords to refuse to accept tenants who have arrears, even if those arrears were accrued due to domestic abuse. That huge issue must be ironed out.

I wanted to talk about some constituency cases today, but I do not have time. The constituency cases that we raise time and again in respect of universal credit are not unique; this is happening everywhere. This issue is raised on the doorsteps, in our surgeries and with our neighbours. It is such a huge issue and I am fed up with speaking about this cruel system that does not work. The Government must take their fingers out of their ears and stop defending it. They must work with Members across the House who have spoken up about this issue, stop this system and rehaul it once and for all.