The chair of the work and pensions select committee, Frank Field, has warned that the government’s plans to massively speed up the rollout of universal credit (UC) from October will lead to ‘a human and political catastrophe’.
The DWP intends to raise the number of areas that UC is rolled out to from the current 5 a month up to 50 a month, beginning in October.
This is in spite of overwhelming evidence that the benefit, with its built-in six week wait for payment compounded by further delays in processing, is causing huge levels of debt and hardship.
Yesterday, Frank Field, Commenting on an update on the progress and problems in the rollout of Universal Credit, said:
“The Secretary of State still has it in his power to prevent a human and political catastrophe that we have heard about this morning.
“We will hear from David Gauke in October but we must begin to wonder what more evidence the Government needs before it heeds the unanimous call we are hearing from front line providers to pause the rollout.
“We know DWP is aware of these problems and working hard to find fixes but surely common sense says that you should halt extending this programme until those fixes are in place and demonstrably working. What is the point of having pilots otherwise?
"Evidence from the first three Universal Credit boroughs shows they have amassed £8m in rent arrears, with more than 2,500 tenants in London claiming Universal Credit so far behind with their rent they are at risk of eviction from their homes.
“We are hearing evidence of people being plunged into all sorts of vulnerability as a result of the debt, risk of hunger and homelessness, and resulting stress of being migrated onto Universal Credit, with its in-built 6 week delay in receiving a first payment and much longer waits for many people.
"People already on low incomes simply cannot cope without any income for such a long period of time.
“That people are as a result reliant on food banks, for example, is not an acceptable facet of our social safety net.
“It must behove the Government now to declare at least a "Christmas truce", and fix all these problems before progressing any further."