MP brands Universal Credit families ‘guinea pigs’ in Government experiment

Families struggling with Universal Credit are “guinea pigs that this Government is experimenting on”, with some being driven to try to take their own lives, MPs have heard.

Labour MP Ruth George (High Peak) called for action in improving the benefit system which is leaving people with “spiralling debts from which they can see no end”.

Her remarks came as a Government decision to pay for an “advert” in the Metro newspaper addressing “myths” surrounding the Universal Credit scheme came under fire, with one MP branding it an “absolutely shocking waste of money”.

Speaking during a Westminster Hall debate on Universal Credit and debt, Ms George said: “The Government really must act.

“It doesn’t take anything necessarily very radical. Many of the actions are already agreed, but they need to be brought forward and done now.”

She said the Government should abolish the five-week wait before claimants receive any money, and bring in a maximum cap on welfare deductions straight away.

Ms George said: “If this is test and learn, then those people are the guinea pigs that this Government is experimenting on.

“The people that are suffering that system now are left with spiralling debts from which they can see no end.

“They are driven by the unresponsive system to even try to take their own life. They don’t get a second chance at living a better life. Their children don’t get another chance at a childhood not marred by poverty.”

Tory MP Peter Aldous (Waveney) said the system has seem improvements but far more needs to be done.

He said the “test and learn” approach is correct, but the Government needed to act to “alleviate this albatross of arrears” many claimants are facing.

He said the “sheer scale” of introducing Universal Credit had “not been recognised” in the run-up to its rollout, leading to problems with the delivery.

Employment minister Alok Sharma said: “In research that we have carried out, the proportion of Universal Credit claimants who were in arrears at the start of their claim fell by a third after four months.

“I can confirm we are currently carrying out further analysis with a number of housing providers to investigate and understand the true level of rent arrears for their tenants and what is causing that and, of course, when we have this information we will publish it.”

Labour MP Grahame Morris (Easington) said the “advert” in Metro was a mistake, and the money could have been better spent.

He said: “Does the minister think it is reasonable, in circumstances where people are facing such dreadful financial hardship, that the department spends over £23 million advertising Universal Credit in a single newspaper, in Metro? I think it is an absolutely shocking waste of money.”

Mr Sharma replied: “The whole point of this campaign is to tackle common myths around Universal Credit, and the department has consulted the Advertising Standards Authority and our adverts to reflect their advice.”

He added that the cost of the adverts had not been £23 million.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Kirsty O’Connor / PA Wire.