The UK Government will ‘have blood on its hands’ if it presses ahead with the much-criticised roll-out of its flagship Universal Credit benefit, a prominent MP has warned.
Labour Chairman and Member of Parliament for Wansbeck, Ian Lavery MP, has written to Theresa May, urging the Prime Minister to scrap Universal Credit before countless lives are destroyed.
Mr Lavery warned the new benefit, which merges a number of legacy benefits into one single monthly payment, will lead to a significant increase in poverty and deaths – a claim rejected by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Mr Lavery said: “This political policy will lead to the deaths of people across the UK and in addition to worsening almost every social issue imaginable, from child poverty to increases in homelessness, I believe for the most vulnerable in our communities and especially those with mental health issues, I fear this cruel and callous decision will tip people over the edge.
“We [have] passed the point of no return and the only reasonable action is for Universal Credit to be immediately scrapped.”
His words have been echoed by Labour’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, who has given the strongest hint yet that the next Labour Government would scrap Universal Credit and replace it with a different system.
“I think most people now are coming to the conclusion Universal Credit has got to be scrapped”, he told Sky News.
“We are at that stage when it’s not sustainable anymore. It’s not a system that can work. It’s not a system that can provide the safety net that people expect when they need support.
“We are moving to a position now where it’s just not sustainable. It’ll have to go.”
Universal Credit will move into its final stage from July 2019, which will see around 3million people transferred to the new system from legacy benefits, including tax credits and housing benefit claimants.
Mr Lavery continued: “Today, on world mental health day, I have written urgently to the Prime Minister to make her aware of the irreparable damage her policy is going to inflict on countless UK residents.
“I firmly believe that if the government continues to push forward this nonsensical and vicious agenda, they will have blood on their hands.”
“Many vulnerable people may feel they have no option other than taking their own lives, something which is utterly devastating,which I have seen happen to constituents of mine before.”
Former PM Gordon Brown has warned that continuing to roll-out Universal Credit could lead to a “summer of discontent” and fuel public unrest.
Mr Brown said: “Surely the greatest burning injustice of all is children having to go to school ill-clad and hungry. It is the poverty of the innocent – of children too young to know they are not to blame.
“But the Conservative government lit the torch of this burning injustice and they continue to fan the flames with their £3bn of cuts. A return to poll tax-style chaos in a summer of discontent lies ahead.”
He continued: “As one of the architects of tax credits I remind people that it was difficult enough to introduce them even when we were spending billions more and raising benefits.
“But to impose universal credit – and to force 3 million to reapply for their benefits next year – when, on top of a child benefits freeze, the government is spending £3bn less, is chaotic, cruel and vindictive, far beyond austerity.
“For the first time that any of us can remember, the safety net is not now the welfare state but charity – and the lifeline for families in need is not social security but food banks.
“Voluntary groups are now being swamped with desperate and almost unanswerable requests for help.”
And the UK’s largest foodbank network has warned that continuing to roll-out Universal Credit in its current form, without pausing to fix many of the reported flaws in the system, is likely to lead to a “significant increase in foodbank use“.
“Until now, only people making a new application for benefits in certain areas have been able to apply for Universal Credit”, the charity says.
“This next stage – ‘managed migration’ – will see the three million people currently receiving tax credits or benefit payments under the old system sent a letter telling them to reapply for these payments under Universal Credit.”
Emma Revie, Chief Executive of The Trussell Trust, said: “We created our benefits system in this country to free people from poverty, not lock them into it.
“As we look at the current plans for the next stage of Universal Credit, we’re really worried that our network of foodbanks could see a big increase in people needing help.
“Leaving three million people to wait at least five weeks for a first payment – especially when we have already decided they need support through our old benefits or tax credits system – is just not good enough.
“It doesn’t have to be like this. We know the problems people are likely to face as they move over to the new system, so we can learn from them.
“The Department for Work and Pensions has shown they can act on evidence from the frontline to make a real difference to people who need our benefits system’s vital support.
“Universal Credit needs to be ready for anyone who might need its help, and it needs to be ready before the next stage begins.”
A DWP spokesperson defended the policy, saying Universal Credit simplified an “outdated” benefits system.
“It removes the ’16 hour rule’ which disincentivised work, and covers 85% of child care costs to support claimants in work”, the spokesperson told Chronicle Live.
“Each claimant is assigned a one-to-one work coach, who is able to provide tailored support, addressing each individuals specific needs and barriers into work.
“Through our ‘test and learn’ approach, significant improvements have been made to the system, such as making 100% advances available, removing the seven waiting days, and providing two additional weeks of housing benefit for claimants moving from legacy benefits to Universal Credit.”