On the face of it, Universal Credit seemed like a good idea – a simplified way of paying benefits to those most in need.
The trouble is, the way it is being rolled out across the country means that those in greatest need face a six-week wait before they receive a penny.
The government claims that this waiting and assessment period is a fundamental part of its policy, designed to mirror the world of work and prevent welfare dependency.
However, it is having a disastrous impact and pushing families into poverty. Rents are not paid and evictions follow, bills are not paid and children go hungry.
The Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest foodbank network, has said that the waiting time is responsible for a rise in demand for charity food, while Citizens Advice has said that it is causing and exacerbating personal debt problems.
The government’s figures show that nearly half of new Universal Credit claimants required an advance on their payment, and nearly a quarter did not receive their first payment in full and on time.
They also show that 49 per cent of claimants in arrears said they fell behind in payments after they made their claim for Universal Credit, with the waiting time highlighted as a key reason. That is just not acceptable.
As even some Tory MPs have argued, the rollout of Universal Credit must be halted to stop the distress caused by the government’s handling of this programme.
I do not believe it is right to suggest that those pushed into debt and rent arrears should have to take out another loan to make ends meet.
Luckily, the roll-out will not hit Blyth Valley until September next year, and maybe the problems will be sorted by then. But I doubt it.
The whole programme must be paused right now to find a way of halting the punitive six-week delay in receiving payments.
I can assure you that I will continue to call for action.