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.
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?