Xmas foodbank fears raised over Universal Credit

18 Oct

Their debate on pausing the controversial welfare scheme was filled with emotional pleas and claims about the impact its further roll-out will have.

Despite Tory MPs being expected to abstain on the eventual vote, impassioned opposition backbenchers fought to reveal their constituents’ struggles.

Labour’s Frank Field, who chairs the work and pensions select committee, tackled the Government over the expected impact on his local foodbank in Birkenhead.

Labour MP Frank Field
Mr Field asked who he should tell his constituents to believe

The Trussell Trust-run centre said it would need 15 tonnes of extra food donations when Universal Credit is implemented in Wirral just before Christmas.

“What message should I take home?” Mr Field asked Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke.

“Should I go home and tell the good citizens of Birkenhead that the foodbank is scaremongering? That we should pay no attention to them?

“Or should they contribute that extra 15 tonnes to the foodbank to prevent people being hungry over Christmas as a result of the roll-out and his inability to deliver a scheme that works?”

Chief secretary to the Treasury David Gauke said the proposals weren't properly funded.
Mr Gauke defended the Universal Credit roll-out

Stephen Doughty, Labour MP for Cardiff South and Penarth, also said housing association tenants who were already on Universal Credit were up to £500 in rent arrears.

He blamed long delays of up to three months for people waiting to receive their benefits.

While the SNP firebrand Mhairi Black branded the Government a “pious loan shark”.

She said: “Instead of coming through the front door, they’re coming after your mental health, your physical wellbeing, your stability, your sense of security – that is what the experience is from all of our constituents…

“Halt it and halt it now.”

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Corbyn and May trade blows over Universal Credit

Mr Gauke, who hours earlier announced call charges to the welfare helpline would be scrapped, defended the programme.

He welcomed the debate and said only 10% of the households that will eventually move on to Universal Credit will be on it by January.

He quoted one claimant, who got a job after being enrolled on the scheme, saying they did “not think it would have been possible without Universal Credit”.

Tory MP Iain Duncan Smith
Mr Duncan Smith was the Universal Credit creator

Iain Duncan Smith, the man in charge of the DWP when Universal Credit was conceived in 2013, said its opponents were “scaremongering”.

“It’s not just about getting people back into work, it’s about changing lives,” he said.

One Conservative MP, Sarah Wollaston, did break ranks to criticise the roll-out of Universal Credit: “Many of the people I used to look after when I was in clinical practice and the people I represent now who come to my constituency surgeries have no cushion whatsoever. This is devastating for them. We can’t ignore the compelling cases that we’ve heard. We can’t allow that to continue.”

MPs will debate the issue until 7pm, but the vote following is non-binding and government sources have told Sky News Tories will be given a three-line whip to abstain. The DUP is also expected to abstain.

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