Jim McMahon: Universal Credit has become the real nightmare before Christmas
Far from helping people back into work, the Government’s flagship welfare reform has turned into a quagmire of unintended delays and pure design flaws, writes Jim McMahon
On Monday 4th I’ll be speaking in the Commons on the failures surrounding the rollout of Universal Credit (UC) as well as its indiscriminate sanctions.
It was encouraging to see the Government listen to the concerns of the majority, including their own MPs in last week’s budget. Some much-needed tweaking was finally carried out that will make some difference to claimants currently at the mercy of UC. But it has come too late for many who have already bore the brunt of its failure to provide basic support.
Specifically, I’ll be speaking on the effect of UC across Greater Manchester. Parts of the City region were early pathfinders for the new system, and there are now over 40,000 people in Greater Manchester claiming Universal Credit. As rollout has ratcheted up here, so too have the problems with delays and inaccuracy of payments – yet we are only 10% of the way through rollout.
Five years into UC the fears raised by charities, local authorities and MP have become a reality for an increasing number of families. Yet the Government allows the UC juggernaut to rumble on regardless. I spoke to Shelter in Greater Manchester who are inundated with casework on rent arrears and evictions because of UC. I heard countless stories of extremely vulnerable tenants placed at the mercy of landlords due to the failures of UC. For example, a lady with mental health problems who was forced out of work. Her UC payment took two months to arrive from the point of application, by which point she had accrued two months of rent arrears. The landlord has already started the eviction process by the time her claim was paid.
In Oldham, which was one of the first pathfinders for UC, the problems are coming to light too. Over 4,000 claimants – 12% of the existing legacy benefit caseload – are now on UC. Benefit casework has increased by a third in the last year, correlating with increased rollout. UC is fast becoming the issue that constituents are most likely to approach me about. Delays, incorrect deductions, confusion and a lack of support are the words I am hearing time and time again. I recently spoke to a constituent who for the last six months has been underpaid on her UC claim. Despite countless efforts to rectify this with DWP she is struggling to cover the cost of food and heating. The health problems she has have significantly reduced her life expectancy. This is no way for her to live the remainder of her life.
I’m clear that the state must be there to support people whenever a time comes when they can’t help themselves. This may be because of poor health, the loss of job, family breakdown or disability. So, the state is failing if it fails to help people in such times. And Universal Credit is the epitome of this failure. Far from simplifying the benefits system and helping people back into work, it has turned into a quagmire of unintended delays and pure design flaws.
The hardship grows as the caseload grows, which is why we need a pause, to review and to refine. The Government didn’t listen to evidence pre-rollout. They have a chance to listen to the growing evidence now.
Jim McMahon is shadow minister for Local Government and Devolution and MP for Oldham West and Royton