MSPs to hear calls for Universal Credit reform

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MSPs will debate Universal Credit (Jane Barlow/PA)

MSPs will debate calls for reform of Universal Credit to halt a predicted increase in in-work poverty.

Holyrood’s Social Security Committee will lead the debate on their report which found the Deparment of Work and Pensions (DWP) was “missing the point” over MSPs’ fears that money could be lost to claimants transferring to Universal Credit under the department’s managed migration policy.

Universal Credit rolls several benefits into one payment – including housing benefit and working tax credits. It was brought in to streamline the benefits process but has faced severe criticism and been subject to several delays.

The committee report acknowledged the system is “likely to stay” but called for “fundamental urgent changes” to its design, including cutting waiting times for payments and bringing in additional support for claimants.

The report also called for an end to in-work sanctions, scrapping the benefits freeze, said Universal Credit is a “significant cause” in the rise of food banks, and claimed the DWP made a “serious error of judgment” in cutting jobcentres in Scotland while rolling out the new benefit system.

Conservative members of the committee, Jeremy Balfour and Michelle Ballantyne, dissented from some of the report’s conclusions.

The SNP’s Alasdair Allan, who sits on the committee, said: “This report is a stark warning from those at the front line of the fight against poverty, and yet another example of Westminster’s failures – it confirms the disastrous impact the Tory’s welfare cuts and sanctions are having on vulnerable people across Scotland.

“It’s clear that Tory MSPs have their heads firmly in the sand over their Westminster colleagues’ deeply harmful welfare policies.

“They remain in denial over the damage this welfare system is causing, with people struggling to pay for essentials even though they have a job.

“The Scottish Government is already taking action, but there’s a limit to what we can do with one hand tied behind our back.

“If the UK Government does not urgently reform the welfare system, in-work poverty will rise further, as working people transfer to Universal Credit and find themselves worse off.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “Employment is at a record high, wages are outstripping inflation and income inequality and absolute poverty are lower than in 2010.

“Sanctions are only used in a small minority of cases and only when people don’t fulfil their agreed commitments to look for work. But we know some families need more support, which is why we continue to spend £95 billion a year on working-age benefits.

“Meanwhile, Scotland has significant welfare powers, can top up existing benefits, pay discretionary payments and create entirely new benefits altogether.”

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