MP backs call for a halt to Universal Credit “disaster”

Rona Mackay MSP
Rona Mackay MSP

A Highlands SNP MP has become the latest politician to slam the roll-out of Universal Credit (UC) as “nothing short of a disaster”.

The remarks by Drew Hendry MP follow repeated demands from Strathkelvin and Bearsden MSP Rona Mackay for a halt to the further extension of the system.

This week it was revealed that 92 per cent of East Dunbartonshire tenants on Universal Credit (UC) are in rent arrears, while crisis grants have risen sharply.

Ms Mackay argues plans to rapidly extend a “bitter and cruel” scheme that has proved to be causing major problems are “simply madness”.

A main complaint is that people are having to wait six weeks for their first UC payment to come through, and have consequently been forced into debt.

Now Mr Hendry, whose constituency of Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey covers a large area of the Highlands, has urged Prime Minister Theresa May to hear first hand the “horrifying” stories of those struggling to survive the launch of the new system.

He has written to invite her to attend a summit in Inverness next month to hear from constituents directly affected by the “botched” roll-out.

The MP said one woman had her payments stopped when she went on maternity leave, leaving her owing £2,000 in rent arrears and forcing her to survive on food vouchers during the four months it took to fix the error. Another constituent, a single mum-of-two with cancer named Leanne, waited six weeks for payment only for the amount to be more than £500 short.

“Shamefully, the DWP then demanded she attended a work capability assessment - against the advice of her furious GP,” said Mr Hendry.

Another expectant mother named Rachael waited for payment from Christmas until April as the result of a mistake, leaving her close to being evicted for £1,500 of housing arrears, and was then asked to make a round trip of 200 miles from Inverness to Aberdeen to sort out the problem.

The MP, now dealing with around 200 calls for help from desperate constituents, said one constituent named John was evicted from his home due to months without payment.

In East Dunbartonshire crisis grant applications have more than doubled since the full service was introduced.

Council leader Councillor Gordan Low said: “The people who are impacted by UC have nowhere else to turn for support and public services are left struggling to cope under the pressure.”

Rona Mackay MSP, in a Holyrood speech, said: “The accelerated roll-out of Universal Credit mustn’t be allowed to happen.

“People are sinking into poverty with having to wait six weeks for their first payment, forced to become indebted.

“The application can only be made online, which is a disaster for many disabled people, and on average claimants have had to call the helpline ten times.

“Universal credit is emblematic of the bitter and cruel treatment of people under this UK Tory Government.

“Thankfully, the Scottish Government’s approach to shaping our own social security system could not be more different, even with the limited powers that we are receiving.”