Bridget Phillipson Labour Member of Parliament for Houghton and Sunderland South
Last week, the Tory Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey let slip that families will be £200 a month worse off under Universal Credit, the government’s flagship welfare policy.
This was supposed to simplify and bring ‘fairness and security’ to our country’s welfare system – but the reality is that it’s doing anything but.
The government’s botched roll-out of Universal Credit means it has been beset by problems since its launch in 2013 – and with this latest announcement, ministers are breaking their promise that it would provide a ‘better deal’ than the existing system.
The truth is that none of my constituents who need this support are getting a ‘better deal’ under this callous Tory government.
What’s more, with thousands of families in our area set to move to Universal Credit in the coming months and years, I fear that worse is yet to come.
Rather than simply transferring people onto Universal Credit, the government’s proposed process of ‘managed migration’ will see them forced to make a new claim within a strict time period.
Those who miss this deadline will have all existing benefits terminated – meaning millions could be put at risk of losing all income for an indefinite period.
It’s shameful that the Tories think this is acceptable – especially when their focus should be on fixing the numerous problems affecting the current system, which is already letting so many people down.
There are several difficulties claimants may face – they could lack literacy skills, have trouble accessing the internet, or can’t afford transport to an identification interview.
Others may simply not have anyone to turn to for help with the application, and as a result, one fifth of Universal Credit claims are unsuccessful.
For those who do manage to claim, the drawn-out five week wait for the first Universal Credit payment risks pushing them into debt and hardship – with recent evidence showing an increase in food bank usage where the system has been rolled out.
Rather than “making work pay,” Universal Credit will likely exacerbate the scandal of in-work poverty, thanks to the government’s decision to slash support for claimants in employment.
Levels of child poverty are already unacceptably high, with almost three million children in poverty living in households where someone in their family works – and I’m concerned this will only get worse once Universal Credit has been rolled out in its current form.
Too many lives have been blighted by this government’s flawed approach to welfare reform, and I won’t rest until ministers accept responsibility and change course.
Read this article in the Sunderland Echo here