THE PLANNED accelerated roll-out of Universal Credit is “simply madness”, MSP Rona Mackay has said.
The new all-encompassing benefit’s pilot runs have been riddled with problems – prompting calls for a halt to the mass roll-out.
Universal Credit is a single monthly payment for people in or out of work. It replaces six main benefits, including Housing benefit, Child Tax Credit, Income support, Working Tax Credit, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance.
Ms Mackay joined the debate Support for Citizens Advice Scotland’s Call to Stop Accelerated Roll-out of Universal Credit on Thursday, September 7.
The Strathkelvin and Bearsden MSP said: “In my speech, I highlighted why the accelerated roll-out of Universal Credit mustn’t be allowed to happen — and it is mostly due to how disastrous the pilot runs have been.
“Also, the words ‘Universal Credit’ are misleading and cruel because they give the illusion of something for everyone, whereas the reality is that it is anything but that. It’s just another means of the Tories imposing austerity.
“I referenced to when I was a former board member of East Dunbartonshire Citizens Advice Bureau, I was all too aware of the fears of the bureau’s staff before the implementation of the Universal Credit system. These fears have come true.
“People are sinking into poverty with having to wait six weeks for their first payment, forced to become indebted. The application can only be made online, which is a disaster for many disabled people, and on average claimants who spoke to CA have had to call the helpline ten times.
“Universal credit is emblematic of the bitter and cruel treatment of people under this UK Tory Government.
“Thankfully, the Scottish Government’s approach to shaping our own social security system could not be more different, even with the limited powers that we are receiving.
“In the name of humanity, will the Tories admit that the system is a disaster and stop the roll-out? To err is human, but to compound a mistake is simply madness.”
From Rona Mackay MSP by Alan Ferguson (07342601722).
I thank Alex Rowley for bringing this important and necessary debate to the chamber.
The words “universal credit” are misleading and cruel because they give the illusion of something for everyone, whereas the reality is that it is anything but that. Universal credit, which was introduced by the Tory Government at Westminster, is merely a euphemism for more Tory austerity. It is the continuation of the attack on our poorest citizens and part of the wider destruction of the UK social security system. It is the same attack on the welfare state that the United Nations has called a “human catastrophe” for disabled people.
I remind members what has happened in the attack so far. The Tories have cut £30 a week from the disability benefit employment and support allowance, hitting those who are unable to work; they have implemented the hated two-child tax credit limit, which takes money from low-income mothers and fathers who desperately need it; they have removed the family element of working tax credits, again hitting low-income parents hard; and they have locked young people aged 18 to 21 out of housing benefit. Those are just some of the measures that have been taken by the Tories.
Universal credit has got off to a terrible start, but it is to be radically extended this autumn. That extension must be delayed. As a former board member of East Dunbartonshire Citizens Advice Bureau, I was all too aware of the fears of the bureau’s staff before the implementation of the universal credit system. Those hard-working staff are on the front line and could foresee the misery that the system would cause to so many people who are already struggling to make ends meet every day. Sadly, their fears have been realised. With universal credit, benefits are paid in a lump sum, leaving many recipients unable to budget and increasing the risk of homelessness and food and fuel poverty.
East Dunbartonshire Citizens Advice Bureau is one of five bureaux piloting the so-called full service universal credit. In those areas, there has been a 15 per cent rise in rent arrears, compared with a national decrease of 2 per cent. A lot of statistics have been mentioned today, but they are worth repeating. The phasing out of disability tax credits means that more than 110,000 disabled people who are in work are at risk of losing up to £40 a week. There has been an 87 per cent increase in crisis grant issues in the pilot areas, compared with a national increase of 9 per cent—just think about that. Two of the bureaux have seen increases in advice about access to food banks of 40 per cent and 70 per cent, compared with a national increase of 3 per cent. As we have discussed, 39 per cent of claimants waited for more than six weeks to receive their first payment. The six-week wait is deemed acceptable by the Tories, who evidently expect people to live on fresh air.
The fact that the application can be made only online makes the process even more shambolic. Disabled people are the group in society that is least likely to have internet access. It is estimated that 35 per cent of them do not have access to the internet. In comparison, more than 90 per cent of the non-disabled population have access to the internet.
Put simply, people are sinking further into deprivation thanks to a roll-out riddled with error, and the roll-out must be paused until key problems are addressed. No organisation would go ahead with a scheme that had failed so badly in a trial, but, as ever, the Tories will plough on with their disastrous policy regardless of the human cost.
Universal credit is emblematic of the bitter and cruel treatment of people under this UK Tory Government. Thankfully, the Scottish Government’s approach to shaping our own social security system could not be more different, even with the limited powers that we are receiving. In the name of humanity, will the Tories admit that the system is a disaster and stop the roll-out? To err is human, but to compound a mistake is simply madness.
Support for Citizens Advice Scotland’s Call to Stop Accelerated Roll-out of Universal Credit
September 07, 2017 12:45
Duration: 1 hour 6 minutes 28 seconds
That the Parliament notes with concern the reported evidence from Citizens Advice Bureaux regarding the initial roll-out areas in Scotland, and elsewhere in the UK, which it believes highlights that the reality of universal credit risks leaving many people in Scotland without the support they need, pushing them into debt and leaving them unable to make ends meet; is further concerned that Citizens Advice Scotland, it understands, has reported that evidence from initial roll-out areas shows that, since universal credit was introduced, bureaux have seen a 15% rise in rent arrears issues compared to a national decrease of 2%, and an 87% increase in Crisis Grant issues compared to a national increase of 9%, and that two of the five bureaux in impacted areas have seen a 40% and 70% increase in advice about access to food banks, compared to a national increase of 3%; notes the call from Citizens Advice Scotland and a host of antipoverty organisations across Scotland for the UK Government to pause the accelerated roll-out of universal credit until the reported design and delivery problems have been addressed; notes the comments from the Chair of Citizens Advice Scotland, Rory Mair, that “universal credit has major delivery and design flaws which risk hurting families instead of helping them. These include long waits for payments that push people into crisis and debt, all the while battling a highly complicated process with little support”; considers that it is not right to proceed with the accelerated roll-out of universal credit in the knowledge that it will, it believes, result in tens of thousands of men, women and children in the Mid Scotland and Fife region and across Scotland being driven into debt and rent arrears and having to turn to foodbanks just to survive, and notes the calls on the UK Government to pause the process, listen to the evidence and act accordingly to address the issues.