MPs have slammed the proposed roll-out of Universal Credit, saying thousands of claimants could be pushed into debt or made homeless if problems aren’t fixed.
The controversial scheme has been designed to replace six existing benefits – Job Seeker’s Allowance, housing benefit, children’s tax credit, working tax credit, income support and employment and support allowance – but has been plagued with problems and criticism.
Now the Works & Pensions Select Committee has demanded that it is proved to be ‘up to the job’ before any future roll-out is considered.
Chairman Frank Field said: “Anyone who sees their income slashed or their circumstances and life chances reduced, or any of the other messes Universal Credit is getting people across this land into, will find no comfort in learning it didn’t happen on purpose.
“We, like so many others, have asked the government not to move to ‘managed migration’ until it demonstrates it is ready to do so safely, without exposing a single claimant or their children to debt, hunger, or homelessness.”
The committee has heavily criticised the Department for Works & Pensions for not listening to expert recommendations on how to make sure that thousands of families will not be pushed into hardship.
The roll-out has already been delayed multiple times, but the latest move is to switch 10,000 claimants living in the Harrogate area as part of a trial and an additional step to a full national roll-out by 2023.
The committee has previously warned the government that they should not ignore the advice that moving vulnerable people ‘could end in disaster and destitution’.
Frank Field emphasised: “DWP should not move one person onto Universal Credit until it does tests, and does learn, and proves it is ready to safely do so.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “When moving people onto Universal Credit, it is wrong to suggest that this department is resistant in any way to the idea of tests.
We have already set out ten tests of readiness and pilot outcomes will be subject to full and rigorous review – including operational readiness.
“We are working with numerous expert stakeholders during the pilot, ensuring vulnerable and complex claimants are fully supported and safely moved over to Universal Credit, as well as consulting with Parliament before extending the process to more people.”
Further criticism of Universal Credit has come from MP Neil Coyle who claims taxpayers will be saddled with a £115 million bill for two weeks extra housing benefit to ‘plug the gap’ in the five week waiting time for claimants to get their first payment.
Select Committee member Mr Coyle said: “We know that Universal Credit causes huge damage to many of the people it is supposed to help, plunging them into debt, foodbank use and despair.
“But it was supposed to be cheaper than the old system it replaced and we know it costs far more to administer as well as causing all the suffering.
“The DWP should stop throwing good money after bad, should better stand up for taxpayers and should scrap the five week wait and save money as well as save more people from having their lives damaged by Universal Credit.”