‘HOW many more families does the minister estimate will be made homeless this winter as a result of this government’s refusal to pause the roll-out of Universal Credit?’ Debbie Abrahams, Labour shadow work and pensions secretary, asked her Tory counterpart in Parliament yesterday.
She continued: ‘As we have heard, Universal Credit is causing debt, rent arrears and even homelessness up and down the country, with many of the claimants already in work.
‘Housing Associations are saying that over 80% of rent arrears are down to Universal Credit and the Mayor of Greater Manchester is predicting rough sleeping will double as a result of Universal Credit.’
Despite disastrous results in the pilot areas where Universal Credit has been enforced, David Gauke, Tory Works and Pensions Secretary, said that it will be rolled out across the country despite mass opposition from councils, charities and even 25 Tory MPs who have indicated that they are prepared to rebel against the roll-out.
The House of Commons erupted into jeers as Gauke declared: ‘The roll-out of Universal Credit is proceeding to plan gradually and sensibly.’ Where the pilots have taken place, the results have been devastating:
Curo Group housing association in Bath has sought 160 court orders against tenants since April.
Halton Housing Trust has reported a 100% increase year on year in the number of tenants against whom it has started eviction proceedings.
Gloucester City Homes has evicted eight tenants, or 12% of all those in receipt of Universal Credit.
Croydon council in south London said it is now forced to spend £3m this year to try and help thousands of tenants who are in arrears stave off eviction.
Universal Credit rolls six benefits into one, the overall amount of benefit you receive is cut and it is up to the claimant to then decide whether they eat, heat or pay rent as there is not enough money to do all three.
Furthermore there is a minimum 42-day wait for a first benefit payment. During that interim period claimants are left to accumulate serious rent arrears and without a single penny to live off, driving some to food banks and others onto the streets.
This, Gauke said, was being addressed by offering those who are penniless and starving a loan to get them through the first two weeks. Only one advance payment is allowed and it is half of the benefits they would normally receive. This caused consternation even amongst Tory MPs in his own party.
Heidi Allen, Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire, said: ‘Well I believe that advanced payments are really treating the symptoms rather than the cause. The advance payments cover, rather, two weeks worth of money. What happens to all those who are waiting three, four, five, six, seven weeks?’
Neil Gray, SNP MP for Airdrie and Shotts, said: ‘Rent arrears, food poverty and work poverty have all rocketed in areas where Universal Credit has been rolled-out. We also call for Universal Credit to be halted. We know pressure is mounting on the Secretary of State from his own backbenchers for that to happen. Isn’t the fact that the Secretary of State has to now promote crisis loans and advance payments an admission that Universal Credit is failing?’