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Last Thursday MPs unanimously agreed to call for the waiting time for new claimants’ first Universal Credit payment to be reduced from 6 to 4 weeks. 

I was proud to speak in the debate and to add my name to the list of those demanding this change. You can read my speech below.

Sadly the vote is non-binding but we hope that the government will take note, and I will be very disappointed if tomorrow's budget does not include confirmation of this change.

Universal Credit is due to be fully rolled-out in Heywood and Middleton next February but there are many families here now who are already in receipt of it. I dread to think of the impact on families here in Heywood and Middleton from February onwards if the government does not think again about this chaotic system.

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MY SPEECH TO PARLIAMENT ABOUT THE CHAOTIC UNIVERSAL CREDIT ROLL-OUT:

If what I read in the media is true, the Government are planning to reduce the six-week wait to four weeks, and I hope the Minister will be able to confirm that. Although the change is welcome, however, it does not go far enough.

Gingerbread, the single parents’ charity, has found that about a third of single parents were already in debt before the introduction of universal credit. When families are already struggling, there is a danger that universal credit will put many more at risk of financial hardship. Gingerbread has made several urgent recommendations, including reducing the delay in making the first payment, improving communications about advance payments, introducing longer repayment plans, and, importantly, exploring options for a move to fortnightly payments for those most in need.

While I appreciate that the intention behind universal credit is to emulate the world of work with a payment method that reflects the manner in which workers who are paid monthly are remunerated, I think we should take a step back. We should bear it in mind that many people in receipt of universal credit are in dire financial circumstances, and that trying to emulate the world of work may be just a shade too ambitious for the circumstances in which many claimants find themselves. Will the Minister consider incorporating preparation for the world of work in the support services given to claimants? That could be done in a more tailored manner that would be appropriate to each claimant’s individual issues.

Other charities recommend reducing the six-week wait for the first payment to two weeks, including the Child Poverty Action Group and Citizens Advice. I have tabled several written questions on UC, and one of them concerns an issue raised with me by a CAB worker in Heywood in my constituency: if a UC claimant makes an application, they must also arrange an appointment with the jobcentre, and failure to do so invalidates the claim. The CAB worker told me that failure to make this appointment is a very common reason for applications being invalidated, leading to delays, and further compounding the cycle of debt and despair that some of my constituents find themselves in. I am pleased that the Department has replied that it will soon be implementing the option of a text message reminder and will also be reviewing its online orientation processes, to make sure all requirements are as clear as possible for all claimants.

Another issue is the question of what trigger will be put in place in the UC system to replace working tax credits, to entitle children to free school meals. The answer I received from the Department was that no decision had yet been taken and that

“our proposals on this matter will be announced in due course”.

It is difficult to comprehend that such a basic issue has not been sorted out prior to roll-out, and I hope the Minister can provide some clarity on this.

The Government continually repeat their mantra of “Test, learn, rectify”. Why do they feel it is appropriate to carry out tests on the most vulnerable in our society, what evidence can they show of having learned from their failures, and when are they going to start rectifying the damage that has already been done?

TO WATCH MY SPEECH CLICK HERE

Government must listen to universal credit concerns

Last Thursday MPs unanimously agreed to call for the waiting time for new claimants’ first Universal Credit payment to be reduced from 6 to 4 weeks. 

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Heywood Foodbank are in desperate need of donations and are running low on food and other essential items. 

Donations can be brought to my office in Heywood on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10am and 12pm, and can also be taken to the foodbank itself at 6 Bethel Street, Heywood, OL10 1HU, or to St Joseph's Church - contact Father Paul Daly on 01706 369777 for more information. Donation baskets can also be found at Morrisons and at Heywood Library.

Please give what you can.

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Heywood Foodbank in desperate need of support

Heywood Foodbank are in desperate need of donations and are running low on food and other essential items. 

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Yesterday the government were defeated in parliament, with myself and 298 other MPs voting to pause, and fix, Universal Credit before it is rolled out any further.

The vote is non-binding on the government but I hope it will encourage them to think again.

Universal Credit has been piloted in various areas before being rolled out wider. However, the whole purpose of a pilot study is to test the feasibility of an idea BEFORE it’s rolled out to a wider audience. Pilot studies offer the opportunity to identify potential problems, and to fix those problems before the scheme is launched wider.

However, what we appear to have in the case of Universal Credit is a scheme with many identified flaws but which is being rolled out to some of the most vulnerable people in our society by the government regardless.

Just this weekend I was talking with a CAB worker in my constituency and he described to me a basic flaw with the application procedure for universal credit. The scheme hinges upon the applicant making an appointment for an interview with the Job Centre AS WELL as filling in all the fields in the electronic UC application.

However, if the applicant fails to make an appointment with the Job Centre the whole process is deemed null and void and the applicant has to reapply all over again. Yet the CAB worker I spoke to told me that this was a common error made by applicants, leading to delays in payments being made; delays that those applicants simply cannot afford.

Such a simple thing – all that is needed is a reminder at the finish of the application process to make a job centre appointment – exactly the sort of niggle that should be identified during a pilot process, and remedied PRIOR to any wider launch. Yet it would seem that this problem was either not identified by the pilot scheme, or even worse, it was identified yet nothing was done about it.

Similarly, there is no trigger under the UC system for working out entitlement to free school meals. Currently, the children of parents who receive working tax credit are entitled to a free meal, yet there is no such threshold built into the UC system.

The Resolution Foundation has warned that ministers face having to either cut back free meals or give them to all children whose parents receive UC, which would cover an additional 1.7 million children and cost an extra £600m a year.

Single parent families are particularly badly hit by the new system. In my own constituency of Heywood and Middleton, there are 4,402 single parent families (according to the Census of 2011), which equates to 33% of the local population.

There are presently 530 single parents in Heywood and Middleton receiving UC (as of most recent DWP data from June 2017). Heywood and Middleton’s Job Centres are due to become full service in Feb 2018.

The charity for single parents, Gingerbread, has found that single parent families are experiencing significant financial hardship through delays, errors, fluctuating payments and payment in arrears. Around a third of single parents surveyed by Gingerbread were in debt before UC (Gingerbread, 2017); when families are already struggling, UC risks putting many more at risk of financial hardship.

Gingerbread make several urgent recommendations, including reducing the delay to a first UC payment, improving communication of advance payments, introducing longer repayment plans and exploring options to move to fortnightly payments for those in most need.

Similarly, the Child Poverty Action Group also recommend reducing the current six week wait for a first payment to two weeks, and warn that universal credit in its current form will contribute to increased rates of child poverty.

The group states that measures such as lifting  the two-child limit will keep up to 200,000 children from poverty and that removing the benefit cap will keep up to 100,000 children from poverty.

The Citizens Advice Bureau has found that the 6 week wait is pushing people into debt, with 1 in 5 claimants having to wait longer than 6 weeks, and that Advance Payments help but are only partially propping up a flawed system (they provide people with only 50% of a payment, which covers 2 weeks, and most people wait 6 or more weeks).

Following yesterday's overwhelming vote in parliament to pause and fix the system, the government should ensure that:

No one is left waiting longer than 6 weeks without an income

Those who need it get a payment within 2 weeks, which they do not need to pay back

People have access to a minimum standard of support to help them adapt to the scheme.

I don’t think I’m scaremongering (as the Tories have accused us of) in raising these issues and I don’t believe that it was ever the intention of those who devised the Universal Credit Scheme to leave thousands of people unable to pay essential bills and pushing them into debt and hardship.

The Government must act now and pause and fix the Universal Credit system before hundreds of families are made to suffer.

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CLICK HERE TO SIGN LABOUR'S PETITION CALLING ON THE TORIES TO PAUSE AND FIX UNIVERSAL CREDIT NOW

Government must pause and fix Universal Credit

Yesterday the government were defeated in parliament, with myself and 298 other MPs voting to pause, and fix, Universal Credit before it is rolled out any further.

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