The UK Government’s flagship Universal Credit system is still failing to protect vulnerable people from being pushed ever further into debt and destitution, anti-poverty campaigners have warned MPs.
Representatives from leading mental health charity Mind and food bank network The Trussell Trust told the Public Accounts Committee, a cross-party group of MPs, that recent changes to Universal Credit fail to address “serious problems” with the flawed system, including the devastating impact it is having on many of the poorest and most vulnerable claimants.
It comes after a damning report from the National Audit Office highlighted the continuing struggles faced by many people on Universal Credit, whilst also publicly shaming the Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey for misleading Parliament.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said: “We presented evidence provided by those we represent further highlighting problems surrounding the much-criticised Universal Credit, which we don’t believe is being delivered safely for many people with mental health problems.
“Under Universal Credit, even those who are severely unwell and at crisis point are still being required to look for work or risking losing their benefits. We’ve also seen a real lack of support for people who aren’t well enough to manage an online claim or monthly payments.
“While some people with mental health problems are able to manage their money well, for others receiving one payment and being responsible for ensuring rent and bills are paid can be problematic.
“Taken together these problems are driving too many people into a cycle of debt, housing problems, and deteriorating mental health.
“Once again we’re urging the Government to address the serious problems with the system before they begin to move many thousands of people with mental health problems onto Universal Credit next year.
“We’re also calling for a guarantee that no-one receiving existing benefits will see their claim stopped before they have been moved on to Universal Credit.
“Under current proposals people with mental health problems risk slipping through the net if they are not able to make a claim in time.
“If the Government really is determined to move people over to Universal Credit, they should take responsibility for moving people onto it smoothly and safely while protecting their income and their health.”
The nationwide food bank charity Trussell Trust provided a shocking 1,332,952 food parcels for households in crisis between 1st April 2017 and 31st March 2018, a 13% increase on the previous year.
Commenting on the rise in the numbers of food bank users, Chief Executive Emma Revie said in April: “Universal Credit is the future of our benefits system. It’s vital we get it right, and ensure levels of payment keep pace with the rising cost of essentials, particularly for groups of people we know are already more likely to need a foodbank – disabled people, people dealing with an illness, families with children and single parents.”
Commenting after giving evidence to the Public Accounts Committee, Emma Review said: “No one should need to turn to a foodbank.
“Our benefits system was built to end hunger and destitution – Universal Credit can and must continue that legacy, but if it is to do so we need payments to cover the cost of essentials and a true Universal Support system in place: one that is funded, that people are aware of, and that includes debt support and advice for everyone moving onto the new system.
“Foodbanks have seen firsthand the impact on people when there is either no money coming in at all from a benefit payment, or that payment is reduced: people living with physical or mental health conditions skipping meals for days at a time, young families facing eviction, and single men with insecure work struggling to afford the bus fare to work.
“We’re a country that prides itself on making sure proper support is in place for each other whenever help is most needed, whether that is through our health service or benefits system – what is clear is that more must be done, and urgently, before Universal Credit can be seen as part of this tradition.”
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