On Friday 09 August, I visited the Jobcentre Plus in Houghton to learn about the work that staff there are doing to support people who have just been moved on to Universal Credit from other benefits, or who are making new claims.
I would like to thank Customer Service Manager Sue Stimpson and other staff who took the time to talk to me about the rollout of Universal Credit – I was struck by their dedication and commitment to helping people find a job and get the support they are entitled to.
While I welcome steps to simplify the delivery of social security and make sure work pays, I remain concerned at how Universal Credit is working in practice.
The Public Accounts Committee, on which I sit, is currently looking into the experience of claimants under this new system, and whether it is delivering value for money.
It is clear from evidence submitted that despite the best efforts of staff, the unnecessary complexity of the Universal Credit system is causing claimants lots of hardship – with some facing delays and problems in accessing support, and getting into debt and rent arrears as a result.
The Trussell Trust has also submitted evidence to this inquiry suggesting a link between increased foodbank usage and the roll-out of Universal Credit across many areas of the country.
Its figures show that in areas where Universal Credit is at ‘full service’, foodbank usage is up by 52% in comparison to 12 months before. Even for areas where Universal credit has not been rolled out to full-service, there is a 13% increase in foodbank use.
This should not be the norm for anyone, and the government must do more to prevent families from going hungry and using foodbanks as a last resort.
I will keep pressing the government to fix the problems with Universal Credit, so that it works for everyone who uses it in our area, and across the country.
If you are a constituent who has had any specific problems regarding Universal Credit, please do not hesitate to contact me.