Former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has called on the Government to halt the roll out of its‘ cruel and vindictive’ Universal Credit system.
He said it must be abandoned before five million British children are officially living in poverty.
He branded Universal Credit as a “harsh, harmful and hated experiment.”
The system was designed to overhaul the benefits system, but it has been the subject of fierce controversy.
Universal Credit was introduced to Fife just before Christmas and has been blamed for a huge rise in the numbers of people seeking support from local foodbanks, and swamping rights groups with appeals for help.
Mr Brown, former MP for Kirkcaldy, said it would bring back Poll Tax-style chaos – and he urged Phillip Hammond, Chancellor, to take action when he delivers his Budget later this month.
Mr Brown was speaking at the University of Edinburgh where he was honouring fellow Fifer, the late Gordon Aikman, who campaigned for better care for people diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND).
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He said the Government’s Universal Credit system was pushing child poverty to record levels and the national roll-out must be abandoned before more suffering is caused.
Mr Brown hit out: “For the first time that any of us can remember, the safety net is not now the welfare state but charity and the lifeline for families in need is not social security but food banks. Voluntary groups are already being swamped with desperate and almost unanswerable requests for help.
“In my own home town food bank demand has doubled in just a year because of Universal Credit and the benefit changes around it as family after family is pushed into poverty.
‘According to the Child Poverty Action Group the total loss from restricting benefits to two children plus cutting the family element of child tax credit could mean that a family with three could lose up to £3,325 per year - more than £60 a week. A family with four children could eventually be worse of by £6,105, more than £100 a week than if claiming before all the changes.
“Because almost £3billion has been cut from its budget, Universal Credit does not achieve its objectives. It was advertised as making work pay and empowering those on low incomes but In fact two thirds of poor children are now in families where someone is working and according to the Resolution Foundation there are 3.2million working families who stand to lose an average of £48 a week.
“And claimants feel more powerless than ever, waiting weeks for money, forcing rent arrears and pushing families into the hands of loan sharks.”
He criticised the complexity of the online application process and took Prime Minister Theresa May to task.
He said: “ Theresa May continues to claim that her mission is addressing ‘burning injustices’. She said it on the day she became Prime Minister and said it again last week.
“Surely the greatest burning injustice of all is children having to go to school ill-clad and hungry. It is the poverty of the innocent – of children too young to know they are not to blame.
“But the Conservative Government lit the torch of this burning injustice and they continue to fan the flames with their £3billion of cuts.
“A return to poll tax-style chaos in a summer of discontent lies ahead.”
Mr Brown called for “an urgent review” which must included the voices of people who have experienced life under Universal Credit.
“The he review should look closely at three options – redesign Universal Credit to make it fit for purpose; axing it in favour of reverting to the old system if UC IS unfixable; or introduce a brand new system altogether. And many good people have plenty of ideas about how this could be achieved.”