Scots MPs to call for more Universal Credit flexibility and debate its impact on terminally ill people

Dr Philippa Whitford
Dr Philippa Whitford

MPs will this week continue to put pressure on the UK government to “tackle the flaws” in the roll out of Universal Credit before it forces “more into poverty”.

The SNP’s health spokesperson at Westminster, Dr Philippa Whitford, will today present a Ten Minute Rule Bill aimed at making the benefit more flexible for those who receive it.

Later in the week, her party colleague Drew Hendry, whose Highland constituency was the pilot area in 2013 for the welfare changes, will hold an end of day debate about the impact the changes are having on the terminally ill.

Central Ayrshire MP Philippa Whitford said her 10-Minute Rule Bill was aimed at improving the options available for recipients.

Given the welfare payment was due to mimic a salary, she called on Chancellor Philip Hammond to cut the initial waiting period for payments to a month, after it was reduced from six weeks to five in last week’s Budget.

Whitford also warned that single household payments of the benefit represent a backwards step which risks “a return to Victorian times” for women.

Dr Philippa Whitford said: “The Tories tinkering in the Budget has made little difference to the utterly callous and damaging roll out of Universal Credit and the UK government seems unaware of the damage and hardship this flawed policy is doing.

“As a doctor of over 30 years, I know that one of the biggest causes of physical and mental ill health is poverty. This has a particular impact on children – it is hard to focus on your homework if you are cold and hungry.

“So - I am presenting a Ten Minute Rule Bill at Westminster aimed at improving the options available for recipients. One of the biggest problems was that people were waiting a minimum of 6 weeks, and often much longer, before receiving their first payment. While the UK government have shortened this by a week, Universal Credit is meant to mimic a salary so the waiting time should be a maximum of one month.

“My Bill would also seek to provide flexible options, to help stop people falling into debt and rent arrears. The government should change the practice of only paying into a single bank account. It’s bizarre to return to the Victorian image of the ‘head of the household’. This can isolate women living in a controlling relationship by leaving them no money of their own.

“No one should have to choose between poverty and abuse. Through this Bill I call on the Government to tackle the flaws in Universal Credit before it forces even more women and children into poverty.”

Drew Hendry
Drew Hendry

Drew Hendry MP, whose Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey constituency has piloted the roll out since 2013, is also holding an adjournment debate on the impact of Universal Credit on the terminally ill on Wednesday.

He said: “For over four years, since the Universal Credit pilot in my constituency, the agencies, charities, council and I have been telling the UK government of the problems and hardship that these systemic failings are causing.

“We thought they would listen and adjust it as it progressed but the years of suggestions to improve it, meetings with ministers, joint letters, debates, demands, even pleading, have fallen on deaf ears. This week, at last, we have seen the first admissions that Universal Credit is broken with the small concessions the Chancellor has made.

“He needs to go much further though and halt and fix the shambles and heartache that is about to be imposed on hundreds of thousands more people if the roll out was to continue. My debate will focus on the cruellest of conditions, those with terminal illness, many of whom die before the claims are paid and who - as a heartless new requirement - have to ‘self-certify’ that they only have months to live, even if they didn’t wish the doctors to tell them of the nature of their fate.”

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