Crunch talks with the DWP to discuss Universal Credit’s impact on local communities has exposed “fundamental flaws” in the flagship benefit system, an MP has warned.
Lesley Laird, who represents the Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath constituency, met with Will Quince MP, the Under Secretary of State for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance in London this week.
The meeting was arranged to discuss acute concerns raised by a host of frontline charities in the Kingdom (pictured above) who say UC has led to an upsurge in crime, debt and people coming forward desperate for help.
“We know that Universal Credit has singlehandedly led to food bank use rocketing, but it became clear,” said Ms Laird, “that no data is captured by the DWP when claimants use food banks which, of course, explains why the government point-blank denies there’s a direct correlation between the two.
“Furthermore Mr Quince revealed no data is captured as to the reasons why people are sanctioned and there was no way of tracking this at present, meaning they can’t look at underlying reasons in a bid to prevent sanctioning happening again.
“Mr Quince said he was unaware of cases, for example, of people volunteering to build employability skills being sanctioned for not spending enough time job searching.
“Nor could he tell me what percentage of UC claimants are being sanctioned in this area. I even had to spell out to him that Kirkcaldy’s unemployment rate was almost double the UK average.”
The MP also raised concerns about Fife Council tenant rent arrears topping £2m and asked what steps were being taken to ensure claimants were aware they could sign up to direct payments to pay housing costs – and to ensure Fife Council would not be left exposed to higher levels of arrears.
According to latest data from the House of Commons Library, Universal Credit roll-out in the Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath constituency is only 37 per cent complete. Another 8,400 people are yet to migrate to the system.
Ms Laird commented: “I was pleased to get this meeting but disappointed we were not able to get a minister out to the constituency to talk to voluntary frontline services.
“It’s thanks to them that we have a true picture of Universal Credit’s impact and the extraordinary lengths they have to go to effectively prop up the welfare state.
“I’d like to extend my gratitude to local groups for sharing their insights and working alongside me to raise this issue.”
She added: “Universal Credit is fundamentally flawed. It’s not a welfare system designed to protect people in vulnerable circumstances; it causes utter abject misery. It’s destitution by design and it’s only going to get worse.
“Shamefully, it’s blindingly obvious that, despite knowing this – of children being forced to go to bed hungry – this government has no intention of changing Universal Credit.
“The UK has the fifth richest economy in the world and there’s absolutely no excuse for this appalling situation. Universal Credit must be scrapped.”
Pic: Groups which spoke out against Universal Credit at a meeting organised by Lesley Laird earlier this year, included: Citizens Advice Rights Fife (CARF), Home-start Kirkcaldy, Link Living, Kirkcaldy YMCA, Fife People’s Assembly, Kirkcaldy Food Bank, Fife Voluntary Action and Fife Trades Union Council.