Newcastle MP demands shambolic Universal Credit roll-out is paused  

Newcastle North MP, Catherine McKinnell, has today made an impassioned plea to the Government to pause the roll-out of Universal Credit across the country, until the lessons from the ‘shambles’ of the new benefit’s pilot in Newcastle have been learned.

Speaking during an Opposition Day debate in the Commons this afternoon, Catherine outlined the serious problems faced by constituents in Newcastle North, following the full roll-out of Universal Credit to all three Jobcentres in the city earlier this year.  The Newcastle North MP’s contribution today follows the Parliamentary debate she secured on the issue back in April, where she highlighted then how badly Universal Credit was affecting local residents, and organisations including Your Homes Newcastle and the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.

During her speech this afternoon, Catherine said:

‘Since the full roll-out of Universal Credit across all three Jobcentres in Newcastle in March this year, it has possibly doubled the work of my caseworkers and other local agencies since its introduction. It has been nothing short of a shambles. To roll it out any further, without dealing with some of its fundamental failures, will just roll out misery for thousands more people.  It simply is not working, and I will set out as clearly as possible in the short time I have today exactly why.’

The Newcastle North MP went on to strongly criticise the built-in 6-7 week delay before people receive their first Universal Credit payment, commenting:

Who of those ‘just about managing’ people the Prime Minister claims to want to help could manage seven weeks without any income?  Who – in work – waits six or seven weeks for their first pay packet? The Government is not being straight with people, and they’re pushing people into spiralling debt and misery, that they will take years, if ever, to manage their way out of.’

And she highlighted the enormous rent arrears now facing local housing providers, such as:

Your Homes Newcastle the ALMO responsible for Newcastle’s council housing [which] currently faces rent arrears of over £1.2million entirely as a result of Universal Credit delays. And they’re not an outlier, Changing Lives, a supported housing provider in the North East, states that 100% of its clients on Universal Credit are in rent arrears. Is this really the Government’s intention?’

 Catherine also made clear:

This is not the fault of hard working staff at Jobcentres and at the DWP. The blame lies fairly and squarely with the Government that has its head buried in the sand… 

 …The real crux of the issue is that the Government should be utilising the very painful lessons learned by areas like Newcastle, where the full roll-out of Universal Credit has been piloted, to ensure that the myriad of issues which have arisen are rectified, before they roll it out any further. It’s causing real hardship and distress. So, we’re not asking for the system to be scrapped – we are simply asking for it to be paused so that the Government can get this complex system right, before they roll out further misery, debt and hardship up and down the land.’

A full copy of Catherine’s speech can be read here.