Despite there being widespread support for the principles behind Universal Credit (UC), from the very outset – some 4 years ago – there have been serious concerns about some of the key design issues being pursued by the government.
Despite there being a unanimous motion in the House of Commons calling on the government to pause the implementation of UC, it has refused to delay until the necessary fixes are in place. However, it is interesting to note that the implementation in the Prime Minister’s and the Secretary of State’s areas have both been moved back in the programme!
So the government is pressing ahead with UC Full Service to be rolled out to 400,000 people over this winter, and nearly 7 million people over this parliament. I’m very clear that the government should pause until the fundamental flaws are fixed.
A key flaw is the initial payment, reduced from six weeks wait to five weeks at the recent Budget (but not to be implemented until next year). This waiting time – which has driven many into debt, arrears and evictions – must be cut significantly.
The government’s own research show that half of those with rent arrears under UC said that they had gone into arrears because of the delays after making a claim. CAB has found that 79% of those in debt on UC had priority debts such as rent or council tax, "putting them at greater risk of eviction, visits from bailiffs, being cut off from energy supplies and even prison.” 2 in 5 have no money to pay creditors as their essential living costs are more than their income. This is significantly higher than historically.
The outcome is also a crisis for all landlords (council, housing associations and private) and providing an unnecessary bonanza for debt-collectors, bailiffs and the courts.
Alternative payment arrangements must be offered to all recipients, including fortnightly payments. There must also be a restoration of the principle that ‘work always pays’ under the programme.
It’s time for the government to stop being pig-headed, to listen, to pause the programme, and to fix the flaws. It’s in all our interests.