Published: 06/10/2017 11:00 - Updated: 06/10/2017 09:50

Inverness MP makes call to stop universal credit roll out

Written byEmma Crichton

 

Drew Hendry
MP Drew Hendry will speak out at his party conference.

MP Drew Hendry, a strong critic of universal credit, is set to call on SNP colleagues to support his fight for a halt to the "horrendous roll out" of the new benefit.

The Inverness MP will make the call at his party’s conference next week, having campaigned against universal credit since it was first trialled in the constituency last year.

At the party conference in Glasgow, Mr Hendry will put forward a motion asking members to support the fight against universal credit, which will be seconded by Scotland’s social security minister, Jeane Freeman.

Ahead of his speech on Tuesday Mr Hendry said: "Our calls to the UK Government to halt the roll out of universal credit continue to be ignored, despite the devastation it is causing to people’s lives here and up and down the country.

"That’s why we must continue to give a voice to those suffering dreadfully at the hands of this failing Tory policy.

"I welcome, therefore, the opportunity to take a motion, calling on the UK Government to immediately halt the roll out, at the SNP conference next week.

"This is an issue I have been fighting on for over two years and one I won’t drop until this horrendous roll out is halted."

Universal credit replaces a number of separate benefits with a single payment, but has been plagued with problems since first being trialled in the Highlands last year as claimants face a six-week freeze in money for all new applications or where they go through change of circumstances, such as moving to a new address.

There have been claims the measures have seen  people unable to buy food or pay rent, compounding their problems by placing them in arrears.

The Scottish Government has already criticised the system, calling on Westminster to halt the roll out until the problems can be ironed out and using the Scottish Parliament’s new powers over welfare to introduce changes including giving claimants the option to have the housing benefit element of universal credit paid directly to their landlord and allowing them to be paid fortnightly instead of monthly.

At a Scottish Parliament debate on Tuesday Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Donald Cameron defended universal credit, despite saying he accepted the roll out had produced "some serious anomalies".

He said: "We accept that some households transferring to universal credit have seen an extended period of time before being in receipt of it.

"Notwithstanding, the vast majority of claimants are paid on time and in full. 

"Inevitably problems will exist when delivering a system of such magnitude, but universal credit is working. This is an inherently better system.

"It has not been seamless but what we are saying is, once fully implemented, not only will universal credit be one of the most necessary overhauls of our welfare system in generations but it will also deliver better prospects for those who need it most."

SNP list member Maree Todd hit back, accusing Mr Cameron of living in a "very alternative world" to many in the Highlands.

"As one of the first areas in Scotland to have universal credit, Highland is already having to deal with the impact of this ill-thought out policy," she said. "What will it take for the UK Government to finally notice the devastating impact that universal credit is having on people?

"It is scandalous that the Tories defend the roll out when they can see the harm it is causing.

"There is a damning litany of failure, confusion, heartache, indignity and a crushing drive towards increased poverty in the universal credit system.

"This is a fundamentally flawed design which is not about making work pay but making benefits punish."

The Department for Work and Pensions has denied that universal credit is pushing people into poverty.

A spokesman said: "Universal credit lies at the heart of our commitment to help people improve their lives and raise their incomes.

"It provides additional, tailored support to help people move into work and stop claiming benefits altogether and it’s working. With universal credit, people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the old system.

"The vast majority of claimants are paid in full and on time, and are comfortable managing their money.

"Advance payments and budgeting support is available for anyone who needs extra help."

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