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It's the poorest people in Lambeth who will suffer from the Universal Credit shambles

Cllr Lib Peck, Lambeth Labour Leader, spoke out against the government's chaotic Universal Credit reforms at Lambeth's council meeting last week - here is her address to the meeting:

 

I’m afraid Lambeth Tories have demonstrated again how out of touch they are.

While tonight we consider the big issues facing our residents and our borough:

  • Police Station closures
  • The housing crisis
  • The public sector pay freeze
  • The dreadful uncertainty being faced by our 40,000 EU citizens.

Lambeth Tories chose to put down a motion on Venezuela.  

Now, I’m an internationalist. I worked for a human rights group for nearly a decade. It is something I’m interested in.

But I have to say it isn’t something that has ever been raise in my surgeries in the sixteen years that I have been a Lambeth councillor.

So tonight I want to focus on one of those issues raised by the previous deputation and also something that has been debated by Parliament today – that is the roll out of Universal Credit.

At a national level it is clear the programme is in a complete mess:

  • The DWP are failing to pay one in four new claims within their six week period – and this is driving people into debt and arrears.
  • Half of families in arrears have said that their rent arrears started after they made their claim.
  • Half of new Universal Credit claimants need a DWP loan to cover the six week wait for their first UC payment

And the consequence of this?

The poorest people – the people who come into our surgeries – that are being made to suffer in Lambeth.

Shockingly, The Trussel Trust has just warned that their foodbanks may struggle to cope with the demand as the programme is rolled out over Christmas.

We in Lambeth are yet to feel the full impact.

But the experience we have had as a pilot in some parts of our borough leaves us to fear the most devastating consequences for residents lay ahead. 

We provided evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee inquiry last week about the multitude of problems our residents had encountered:

  • Delayed payments – sometimes several months
  • Difficulties resolving issues with underpayments caused by poor assessments
  • Stress and financial problems resulting from those arrears

These problems are likely to increase as full service is rolled out. 

It’s not as if warnings weren’t given. We held a conference in Lambeth three years ago where we had leading commentators talking about the problems with Universal Credit.

We worked with Citizens UK and we also worked with CPAG (Child Poverty Action Group) to develop our own financial resilience strategy.

But we know that is not going to be enough to stem the tide; the onslaught, people are going to face.

While Today’s u-turn on the premium rate phone line is welcome – although frankly a ridiculous measure in the first place, the Government must go must further.

They must listen and pause and fix Universal Credit.

A pause is supported by Members of Parliament from all parties, a public petition signed by over a hundred thousand people, and many third sector groups, across the country.

In Lambeth there is support for that from Lambeth Labour Group and many of the organisations that work at the sharp end. 

But not, unfortunately, by Lambeth Tories

Yet again we are seeing your inability to stand up for Lambeth residents.

So, while we support the principles of Universal Credit - we do support the idea of bringing things together and making it less complicated, the design issues, the implementation issues and  the sheer cavailier attitude of the Government makes this a terrible prospect moving into the new year.

So finally, Madam Mayor, I would like everyone in this room to call on the Government to pause the roll out and make sure that they do what we tried to do – which is work with users, local authorities and third sector groups to deliver a more effective system, so that we can ensure that the most vulnerable are not pushed into poverty, debt and homelessness.

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