Blog: Universal Credit – Scottish choices

Jeane Freeman

Jeane Freeman

By minister for social security Jeane Freeman

This week, in parliament I once again called on the UK government to halt the rollout of full service Universal Credit, a fundamentally flawed system that is causing unnecessary hardship and suffering to families across Scotland.

Universal Credit is failing the people it is designed to support, driving more people into poverty. The in-built six week wait for the first payment – which can easily be longer – is unacceptable, pushing people into crisis and rent arrears, having to rely on food banks and emergency payments to get by.

The Scottish Government – and jointly with COSLA last week – has repeatedly called on the UK Government to halt the accelerated roll out of Universal Credit this autumn, but our calls have fallen on deaf ears. So have requests from charities, housing associations, local authorities and parliamentarians across the UK and from all parties. This is despite the strong and compelling evidence that the Universal Credit system is broken and needs urgently fixed before more people are hurt.

By refusing point blank to listen, the UK Government is showing itself to be both heartless and incompetent. It has known about the problems since 2013 when the National Audit Office identified serious weaknesses in the way the DWP were managing the Universal Credit programme. The Universal Credit pilots highlighted problems with monthly payments, removing landlord direct payments and making a single household payment.

So to address the major concerns of debt and crisis, highlighted even by his own MPs, what action has the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions David Gauke taken? He will “refresh guidance so that advance payments are offered up-front”.

Saying even as little as that, acknowledges that the minimum 6 week wait creates hardship. So very little, so very late.

We have no powers to deal with the worst aspects of Universal Credit, including delayed payments, cuts to the work allowances, and the appalling “rape clause” applied to the tax credits within Universal Credit – but we do now have limited powers to tailor aspects of Universal Credit to better suit the needs of people in Scotland, powers that we are using.

From today, the Scottish Government will offer people the choice of changing the frequency of their payments from once to twice monthly; and to have the housing cost element of their Universal Credit paid directly to their landlord. This can help people manage their money in the way that best suits them.

For those Universal Credit claimants in full service areas who applied before today, the new Universal Credit choices will be available from early January 2018.

These choices will be delivered by the Department for Work and Pensions on our behalf and we have worked with them to ensure the process is as smooth as possible.

Clearly this does not address the fundamental flaws in the system. Only full powers over Universal Credit and the wider social security system will do that.