Laura Pidcock | Sunday Politics – Universal Credit 17/09/17

Now, more than a million pounds in rent arrears are owed by tenants in Newcastle, according to evidence given to a Commons Select Committee this week It's the Government's new benefits system that's being blamed

Universal Credit is intended to make the payment of benefits more simple and streamlined But claimants have to wait six weeks to receive it Well, that and other problems have prompted Labour MPs in Gateshead and County Durham and beyond to demand that the roll-out of Universal Credit should be halted Fergus Hewison reports To make a claim, you'll need to complete your to do list

Universal Credit is on the way There is even online adverts alerting people how they can claim It is a way of wrapping up a range of benefits into one payment and it is gradually being rolled out across the region and the country But before it's even arrived in some places it is causing anxiety among some people who will have to claim it The main concern is the length of time while you are changing over the benefits

So, I could be without money at all for three months, possibly I am a single parent with a child That would affect me a lot and cause an awful lot of stress Those who claim Universal Credit have to wait at least six or seven weeks before any payment is made Sometimes longer

With that in mind this County Durham food bank is gearing up for its imminent arrival There has been a 16% increase in food bank usage where Universal Credit has been rolled out Here, in County Durham we are expecting an influx of an extra 10-12% And that puts real pressure on food banks Universal Credit is being introduced across parts of County Durham and Gateshead in the run-up to Christmas and such is the concern about that, that charities and other organisations have met in this room here today to discuss how they will help people who have to claim the new benefit

Rolling out a system of benefits which we know will increase people's indebtedness as they claim it, and the period of time, where people are strapped for cash, just compounds and multiplies the problem So, it does seem particularly inopportune that it is being rolled out at this time of year So, are those fears about the introduction of Universal Credit well founded, or are teething problems to be expected? Inevitably you are going to find that there are glitches as the new system is introduced, particularly such a hugely important one And I think the Government has addressed it by enabling people to get advances on benefits where they cannot wait until the end of that number of weeks and also to provide budgeting advice because part of the flaws of the old system is that people are used to not having to budget We all have to be able to live within our means

Universal Credit was introduced across Newcastle earlier this year, one of the first areas in the country where this happened But that lead to more than 1000 council tenants falling into rent arrears and many people having to rely on food banks while they waited for a payment At the time, the City Council said that Universal Credit had put some vulnerable residents at risk of destitution and homelessness So, has the Government learned from Newcastle's experience? So, Universal Credit I have no issue with The way it is being implemented, I absolutely do because it is causing untold misery to many of my constituents in Newcastle, and if they roll it out without ironing out these issues, but also without dealing with that fundamental problem of embedding debt into our Universal Credit system, then it is going to roll out misery

The Department for Work and Pensions says Universal Credit is helping to ease people's transition into employment And those on it are moving into work faster and staying in work longer It added that financial help is available for people waiting to have claims processed Fergus Hewison reporting Simon Clarke, whatever the merits of Universal Credit, all the evidence shows at the moment that all is not well with the rollout

There's increased level of debt It is madness to accelerate it Pause it and solve existing problems It is important to look at what's Universal Credit is intended to do, to make the transition to work easier, get people to make the most of the opportunities available to them We have seen in new statistics published today that this — that you are 4% more likely to find work within six months on Universal Credit compared to the old JSA system, so it does as a system deliver

In terms of the concerns that are being raised in these reports, we are seeing progress now in ironing out the very glitches that we are talking about, so the new landlords’ portal which is designed to address the problem with rent is coming on stream next month We heard from Judith Wallace in that report about the fact that there are advance payments Why not let that bed down, I mean, I'll give you another figure, if you want to bandy about figures People are 14% more likely to have problem with debts on rent and council tax if they are on Universal Credit and that is genuine hardship No one denies that

But the point is that we are now seeing progress in addressing exactly those points We talk about the point that advances are available We need to get that message out 30% of people are now getting advance payments and 76% of people are now getting their first payment fully on time Laura Pidcock, despite the problems, there is evidence as Simon Clarke says, that people who move on to Universal Credit are more likely to look for work, more likely to find work, more likely to stay in work, and that is the ultimate answer, getting people off benefits, isn't it? But what Simon is not telling you, and the system isn't telling you is that Universal Credit will also apply to those people who are in work and are receiving tax credits in various forms

What is also not been talked about, you know, there is an acceptance that you have to wait What that acceptance means that people will be without money for six or seven weeks at best That is not a delay, that is designed into the system That wait, a first week to make the application, a four-week assessment period, then a week to be paid All of that time, that person is accumulating rent debt, and that puts strain on housing associations

Which, as Simon Clarke says, that is why advance payments are there and there's greater take up now Again, Citizens Advice said that only 10% of people who claimed Universal Credit knew about these advance payments And what is worse, you have to pay those advance payments back within three months, in £50 chunks And that is absolutely, absolutely unrealistic for people who are in debt And the Justice Select Committee, sorry, the DWP Select Committee, met this week, and all of the professionals were unanimous in saying that this has to be paused

Ok, Simon Clarke, the evidence in Parliament, and heard by that committee, this week was damning Tenants on Universal Credit in Newcastle owing more than £1 million in rent arrears Whatever the intentions this benefit is a failure if it is leaving people in debt This benefit is a success, because it is getting more people into work for longer, earning more And you know, Laura talks about the fact that people in work are on it

That is precisely the point It is designed to remove some of the perverse incentives that to used exist when there were separate benefits Are you not accepting almost any problem? This is a learning process That is why this is being rolled out over a period of years It is a process being learned by the people claiming these benefits, they're the people who are suffering

They are trying it out on people There is no way of trying a new system except by piloting it, that would be common practice What we are seeing is real progress here Richard, I must come in here, because it is not any more a trial From October, there will be 50 job centres a month

It is an aggressive rollout, whilst there are literally hundreds of questions that need to be answered by the DWP Shouldn't Labour be a bit braver, here, though Rather than just saying just pause it, saying this benefit has not worked, whatever its intentions, it's so complicated, so difficult, it hasn't worked, end it, scrap it? I think it is very brave to say halt this It is even braver to say scrap it There are things that could be done

The Labour Party is not against benefits simplification It is a convoluted system that isn't understandable to anyone, not least the experts Ok We have to leave it there

Source: Youtube

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