Poor West Dunbartonshire families on Universal Credit will lose £2,400 a year, says Conservative MP
SNP’s Diane Docherty and Caroline McAllister say changes will be “challenging” for claimants. New system, to be introduced here in six weeks’ time, will mean all claim forms will have to be filled in and submitted on-line.
By Bill Heaney
Ministers were well aware the UK Government’s flagship Universal Credit scheme would leave poor families up to £200-a-month worse off, an influential MP has said.
Frank Field, who chairs the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, said cuts were “always planned”.
Field claims that Cabinet ministers were aware that Universal Credit would leave poor families up to £200 a month worse off.
He added: “Every Cabinet minister who looks at constituency post, emails or attends surgeries knows already people going on to Universal Credit are losing these amounts. It was always planned to be so. Since 2010-11 families on benefits have lost £40 billion in cuts. The frailest shoulders have borne most of the budget deficit reduction strategy ‘successes’.”
Universal Credit was introduced in 2013 to merge six benefits into one payment to make the system simpler — and reward those who want to work.
Former Chancellor George Osborne slashed the amount of cash going into the benefit in 2015 before he left office, but the full impact of the income drop is yet to be felt as many families have still to switch to it.
Mr Field’s comments come after Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey reportedly told Cabinet colleagues around half of single parents and two thirds of working age couples with children would lose around £2,400 a year.
Esther McVey, pictured left, reportedly told Cabinet colleagues that around half of single parents and two thirds of working-age couples with kids would lose £2,400 a year. The reduction is from a loss of tax and child credits.
One million people so far get the benefit — with millions more still to move across. Independent experts have estimated 2.1million families will lose money while 1.8million will gain. Meanwhile, the SNP administration in West Dunbartonshire are soft-pedalling on Universal Credit. Residents, who will be required to fill in their claim forms on-line, are being urged to use a range of Council supports to make sure they are prepared for the arrival of Universal Credit next month.
The new system means housing benefit, income support, income-based job seekers allowance, child tax credits, working tax credits and income-related employment and support allowance will all be replaced by one payment.
The council says officers from Working4U have been working with partners at West Dunbartonshire Citizen’s Advice Bureau, as well as housing and third sector organisations to ensure challenges that have been seen in other authorities are minimised in this area.
Changes coming include online-only claims, monthly payments made in arrears and housings costs paid directly to each claimant.
Among the support on offer from the advice partnership, residents can receive one-to-one internet training to help them navigate the new online system, information on how to budget, income maximisation and general employability support.
And further direction on navigating the system will be on offer when it comes into force.
Councillor Diane Docherty, Convener of Housing and Communities, was this week upbeat about the introduction of Universal Credits.
She said: “This system will be a big change for our residents so it’s great to see that we are working with all our partner organisations to make sure we are prepared for it. This is only six weeks away, so I’d really urge residents to think now about how they will be affected come November. Universal Credit will be an online service, so if you need to brush up on your internet skills, get in touch. Similarly, the system puts the onus onto individuals to budget payments for different services, so if you want help with planning your outgoings, we can help you do that.”
Councillor Caroline McAllister, Vice Convener of Housing and Communities, added: “As with the introduction of any new system, there have been some challenges with Universal Credit in other areas. We are keen to make sure we are as prepared as we can be so these are kept to an absolute minimum in West Dunbartonshire. As a Council we are offering as much support for this change as we can, and we urge local residents not to put off asking for help if they are unsure.”
Residents already in receipt of the six benefits will be transferred to Universal Credit either when they notify DWP of a change of circumstances or when DWP begin migrating existing claims to the new system from April 2019.
The Council is also offering a number of awareness-raising sessions for social landlords, education bodies, libraries, DWP staff and private landlords to ensure they are equipped to deal with any issues that may arise from the implementation of the system.
Joe McCormack, manager of West Dunbartonshire Citizens Advice Bureau, said: “We have heard from our colleagues across Scotland about the problems they faced when Universal Credit was first introduced. However, there have been a number of significant changes, including steps taken by the Scottish and UK Governments, to reduce the impact on claimants. We hope that by pooling our resources locally and coming together we can learn from what happened in other areas to rectify errors and respond to the challenges.”
You can find out more about the available support by contacting Working4U on 01389 776855, firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.west-dunbarton.gov.uk/jobs-and-training/working4u/get-in-touch/ You can also visit any of the Working4U offices and make an appointment.