Could you live without any money whatsoever for 6 weeks or more? That’s exactly what some of my constituents who have applied for Universal Credit are being asked to do and it’s why I am one of the many Labour MPs, Councillors and activists calling for the Tories to have a re-think and halt the roll-out of it.
And we aren’t the only ones. It’s increasingly clear that the roll-out of Universal Credit is a shambles and causing further hardship to those already struggling to get by. It seems as though at best it has been rushed out without any thought for claimants and the consequences are so worrying that even ex Tory Prime Minister John Major has asked for a rethink calling it ‘unfair and unforgiving.’
Universal Credit was rolled out in Southampton back in February 2017 and since then I have had regular calls from affected constituents often in distress as they are waiting long periods of time before their first claim and worried about paying rent or buying food for themselves or their family. I have heard from people waiting much longer for payments than the Government’s 6 week target, some have been forced to take out exploitative payday loans with others having to visit food banks to feed their families. Citizen’s Advice Southampton and Christians Against Poverty have also been in touch with me to let me know about many of their clients who are desperate after being left with nothing whilst their claims drag on.
To add insult to injury the helpline that people are being asked to call in case of any problems costs up to 55p to call! The Tories claimed that Universal Credit would simplify the benefits system but it’s clear to me that it is anything but user friendly.
Up until now David Gauke the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is stubbornly pressing ahead with the roll-out in the face of the dire consequences it is having and despite the fact it isn’t working. The impact of this is only going to get worse with councils and housing associations warning of massive rent arrears if something doesn’t change.
Alongside my colleagues I will continue to put pressure on the Tories to re-think the Universal Credit roll out.