Guest column: Government’s Universal Credit scheme is a total shambles

Sir Kevin Barron MP

I joined 122 MPs of different parties in signing a letter to David Gauke, Secretary of State for Work & Pensions, to urgently call on him to delay the planned increased roll out of universal credit from next week.

The system for claiming universal credit is a shambles, in my view.

According to the Government’s own figures, almost a quarter of claimants wait longer than six weeks for their payment and some wait 12 weeks or more, pushing many into rent arrears or a spiral of debt that is almost impossible to get out of.

David Gauke must now do the decent thing and delay next week’s planned 11-fold expansion until the system is working properly.

It would be a huge injustice for so many families to suffer simply because the Government will not admit it still can’t get universal credit working properly.

Less than 40 per cent of claimants register successfully with the Government’s compulsory online portal, while the phone helpline is simply an automatic message, directing claimants to the website.

Citizens Advice has already called on the Government to delay the programme in light of the evidence from the people they help, of whom more than half had to borrow money whilst waiting for their first universal credit payment.

Councils and landlords’ organisations have also called for the roll-out to be delayed as more than half of recipients of universal credit are in rent arrears.

Many tenants are in danger of eviction and some landlords now refuse tenants who are on universal credit, making housing problems worse.

On top of this the Tories met this week in Manchester in an effort to revive a series of tired promises, but they are meaningless and the people of the north know it.

I believe it is clear that the Tories are failing the north.

From the economy to jobs, and from transport to policing, the Tories’ failure to invest in the north is evident as it continues to lag behind the rest of the country.

Economic growth, employment rates and average earnings in the north east, north west, Yorkshire and Humber are all worse than the UK average.

Tory cuts to local government spending power across England are hitting the most deprived councils hardest.

The six most deprived areas are all in the north, all of which have seen cuts of more than three times the national average cut of £169.

And the unfair bedroom tax is landing most heavily on the families in the north of England – 90,000 people in the north compared with 50,000 in the south.

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