Mhairi Black: Universal Credit Is A Mess – And It Needs Fixed Now

Sunday 11 March, 2018 Written by  The National
Mhairi Black: Universal Credit Is A Mess – And It Needs Fixed Now

Universal Credit was a good idea and that point is worth stressing. The initial idea for Universal Credit – one benefit that would combine many to make the social security system simpler for all who access it and simpler to administer – was, as it was announced by then work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith at the Tory party conference in 2010, a good idea.

However, since then the Tories have chipped away at the policy year by year leaving it in the sorry state we see it in today. What was, at its inception, a reasonable proposition has become an ideological farce as a result of this government’s botched implementation. The problems with Universal Credit are many and well documented. From the initial six-week waiting period which was noted to leave people with huge rent arrears, to a botched IT system, to claimants spending ages on the phone racking up huge bills when trying to access help when something goes wrong with their benefit, it has seemed that this flagship policy was doomed to fail.

As it stands – for someone making a Universal Credit claim the best they can hope for is to be short on cash for a few weeks. More often, however, what happens is people find themselves trapped in cycles of rent arrears, with spiralling debt, and at the very worst going without food and relying on food banks.

I have seen it myself at my surgeries or in the emails I receive, and I know that my colleagues are hearing the same stories from their own constituents. Charities are also seeing these issues. Just last year 25 Scottish charities called on the Government to put their plans on hold and consider ways to fix the problems in Universal Credit.

It is that time of year when councils around Scotland are in the process of laying out their budgets for the year ahead. The SNP and Labour partnership which runs Stirling Council recently laid out their budget proposals for the year, part of which was putting aside £200,000 to mitigate the negative effects of Universal Credit.

By giving people the option to have their Universal Credit paid every two weeks, rather than every four, and by offering the option of paying the Housing Benefit component of Universal Credit directly to landlords, they are making the system more manageable for people, but there is only so much they can do.

Which circles back to a theme we see consistently with this Tory government. They make decisions that hurt the worst off in our society, and it is left to the devolved governments and now even the local councils to fix their mistakes. We have seen it time and time again going back to the hated bedroom tax, and it simply is not sustainable for the Scottish Government to keep trying to fix the UK Government’s mistakes with one hand tied behind their back.

Chancellor Philip Hammond will be delivering his first spring statement on Tuesday. He must use this opportunity to implement a pause on the accelerated rollout of Universal Credit and fix the issues with it – because at the centre of the issue Universal Credit remains a good idea which can help many people.

If the Government continue to press ahead without fixing the issues built into the system many people will be left suffering and struggling, which is exactly the sort of thing the policy was supposed to put an end to in the first place.

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