Rugby TUSC holds "productive" meeting on Universal Credit with local Tory MP

A delegation from Rugby TUSC met with Mark Pawsey MP on July 5th. Rugby Advertiser reported on it last Thursday - https://www.rugbyadvertiser.co.uk/news/rugby-political-group-holds-productive-universal-credit-meeting-with-mp-1-8567467

Rugby TUSC began by outlining the recent National audit Office criticism of Universal Credit:

  • Instead of saving money, UC has cost taxpayers even more than the previous benefits system.

  • UC is not getting more people into work.

  • UC has led to hundreds of thousands of claimants having to wait weeks or months for benefit payments – up to 8 months.

  • The numbers forced to use food banks have increased wherever Universal Credit is being rolled out

During the discussion, TUSC members made the following points:

  • Up to 47% of claimants do not have internet access according to the CAB, and the National Audit Office found 25% of claimants said they could not make an online claim

  • Rugby Job Centre will not give claimants without internet access paper copies when required to avoid dentist fees etc

  • A DWP report in 2014 claimed UC has doubled the numbers of claimants in debt

  • Advance Payments are a loan for the first 2 weeks only, and have to be paid back

  • Advance Payments are only given if need is proven. 40% of claimants are not told about them according to the CPAG

  • Getting an advance Loan is not automatic – it has to be applied for - and it has to be paid back from future UC payments. They can only be delayed in ‘exceptional circumstances’, and then only for 3 months

  • DWP staff should be obliged by law to inform claimants about Advance Payments

  • Although, originally planned to be fully rolled out by last year, the Government subsequently said it was ‘on track for UC to be rolled out to ALL Job Centres by the end of 2018. However, this is now to be 2022 according to the then Works and Pensions Sec David Gauke at last years Tory Party Conference

  • UC has cost far more than originally budgeted – initially £2billion, now £15 £billion

  • There are no extra staff in the Job Centres to deal with all the problems with UC – there have been many cuts to staffing and some Job Centres have been closed

  • Being forced into work may well not alleviate poverty – 50% of those in poverty are in work

  • Problems with Universal Credit have caused serious problems for many claimants in Rugby and elsewhere. There is real suffering including food and fuel poverty, rent arrears and evictions.

  • Many claimants are wary about taking their problems to their MP because they fear that the DWP will be even more hostile to them if they find out

  • Tinkering with the system clearly doesn’t work. Universal Credit is fatally flawed and needs to be replaced

Mark Pawsey made a number of points in response:

  • The Government is taking a ‘listen and learn’ approach to UC

  • No one in Parliament, including the Labour party, is suggesting that UC should be abandoned

  • There have been some improvements to UC due to the experiences of the pilot (in Rugby). He cited

  • There is now les of a sliding scale between wage increases and corresponding benefit decreases for those in work and on UC

  • Rugby Council now knows when UC is not being paid and accepts that means periods when rent is not being paid, but private landlords do not necessarily have this information

  • UC claimants now only have to wait 5, not 6, weeks for their first payment

  • Advance payments are now paid to claimants from the first claim date

  • UC continues without further need to claim if a job doesn’t work out

  • Issues around irregular wage payments (monthly, then bi-monthly) have been sorted

  • There are computers in the Job Centre and the supportive Benn Partnership Centre for claimants to use, and the Rugby CAB can assist

  • The National Audit Office saw no real alternative to UC, and any change to a completely new system would cost money

  • We will continue to help any claimant who comes to us

  • Those making medical assessments are not always appropriate qualified professionals, and that needs looking at. However, most appeals do go in favour of the DWP

  • The Government will not abandon UC as TUSC wants, but it will “listen and make it work more effectively”

OUR OVERALL VIEW OF THE MEETING

The meeting was productive in a number of ways. We were able to raise a number of concerns we have about Universal Credit, including those raised in the National Audit Office Report. Mark Pawsey listened, but made it clear that, as before, he is only prepared to suggest a few improvements to the way Universal Credit is administered rather than a full-scale review which could lead a change in policy, despite the serious criticism made by the National Audit Office, which confirms the findings of Rugby TUSC over the last 5 years He agreed to address the specific questions we had raised, particularly in our initial letter to him, in writing

We were disappointed that Mark Pawsey failed to explain why use of food banks, fuel poverty and rent arrears were rising more sharply in areas where Universal Credit is being rolled out, despite those questions being asked on a number of occasions during the meeting

Given Mark Pawsey’s assertion that the Government is taking a ‘listen and learn’ approach on Universal Credit – in itself a partial acceptance that it isn’t working as intended – we will contact him again early next week suggesting a number of follow-up steps he should take, with TUSC’s support, to focus on the problems Universal Credit claimants are facing in order to address them

Pete McLaren, Secretary Rugby TUSC 06/07/18

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