Pressure on government to save Fife from Christmas credit misery

Inset; last week's Fife Free Press front page.
Inset; last week's Fife Free Press front page.

The Government has come under renewed pressure to re-think how it manages the controversial Universal Credit.

It is due to be rolled out in Fife on December 6, sparking real fears that it will cause increased hardship right before Christmas.

Claimants face a wait of up to six weeks for payments, and politicians, churches, trades unions and community groups have warned this will cause major problems for many families in the region.

Last week, the Press called on the Minister for Work and Pensions to stop the roll-out.

This week, the Resolution Foundation added its voice to the debate.

The think-tank – a non-partisan organisation that works to improve the living standards of those in Britain on low to middle incomes – said Universal Credit needs ‘’urgent change’’ to make it fit for purpose.

It wants the Government to cut the long delay before payments are made, and tackle what it said were ‘’major design flaws’’ to improve work incentives for lone parents and second earners.

The foundation accepts that consolidating six different benefits into one is a simpler system– ‘’a prize worth fighting for’’ – but the new system is ‘’at risk of failing those most in need’’ as well as not delivering the changes it wants.

It wants the six-week wait for payment for new claimants tackled.

The foundation says only one-in-seven working-age families reliant on such benefits have savings worth more than a month’s income – and are at most risk of falling further into dept and poverty.

It suggests scrapping the current seven day waiting period and compressing processing days to ensure payments happen a week and a half earlier.

It also wants more flexibility on how people are paid, faster payment of housing support, a simplified process for claiming childcare support and assessing the Minimum Income Floor, that limits support for the self-employed, annually rather than monthly.

David Finch, senior policy analyst, said: “The Government is rightly committed to the roll-out of Universal Credit, but will need to relaunch the benefit to both address the design challenges that are already visible and get ahead of those that will emerge in the years ahead.

“Urgent action is needed to reduce the six week wait and there are simple steps that can be taken now to bring it down, including scrapping the seven day waiting period before a claim is accepted.

“Looking further ahead there are major challenges to come, from how childcare is dealt with to ensuring equal treatment of the self-employed.

“Crucially, because Universal Credit is now almost £3 billion a year less generous than the benefits it replaces, it will leave working families an average of £625 a year worse off.

‘‘ Single parents are particularly hard hit, with almost twice as many losing as will gain, while second earners in couples will also face weaker incentives to work.

‘‘Now is the time to put right these significant design flaws.

“The upcoming Budget provides an opportunity to relaunch Universal Credit – making it fit for purpose in 21st century Britain.”