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Scathing letter on universal credit


Prime Minister, letter, invitation, Inverness, Universal Credit, chaos ‘From pilot to roll out, there has been no attempt to acknowledge or fix the problems that hurt so many.’

SNP MP Drew Hendry has written to the prime minister Theresa May about the “devastation” being caused Universal Credit (UC) – which has been piloted in his constituency of Inverness Nairn Badenoch and Strathspey.

And he invited the prime minister, and any of her government’s ministers, to attend a summit he is hosting in Inverness on 3 November to hear some of the horrifying consequences of this ‘botched roll out’.

In the letter he told the prime minister ‘many of these people have come to me as a last resort – when they have nowhere left to turn, having already waited months for payment.’

The letter runs:

‘Dear Prime Minister,

Following your comments at Wednesday’s Prime Ministers Questions, I felt compelled to write to you and once again raise the matter of Universal Credit.

This is a matter that has long been ignored by your Government, despite my many requests for Ministers to come to Inverness and see for themselves the devastation this rollout has caused.

Inverness was a pilot area for Universal Credit 3 years ago.

My constituency went on to become one of the first places to have it rolled out. It has been nothing short of a disaster, and for those it has failed, it has been a personal catastrophe.

For years, I’ve urged the UK government to act on the mountain of evidence on the harm this shambles is causing – including the testimony of your own agencies and delivery partners.

From pilot to roll out, there has been no attempt to acknowledge or fix the problems that hurt so many.

Indeed, over 60% of my current constituent caseload is Universal Credit related. Alone, my office has been dealing with over 200 Universal Credit cases. This number does not include the many that we have passed over to experts at the Highland Council Welfare Support Team. Every day I receive multiple emails and new visits to my office on the issue, nearly all as devastating as the one before.

As you will know, many of these people have come to me as a last resort – when they have nowhere left to turn, having already waited months for payment.

Constituents are not sure what they should be doing or how the process works.

When they do find help, their documents are lost multiple times and their online journals are often not updated.

The ‘so-called’ digital service is ‘only-part’ digital meaning several constituents are made to travel up to an hour on the bus, to hand in paperwork to the job centre.

This, while trying to balance working and looking after their children.

When they call for help, the ‘usual’ wait on a call is around 30 minutes and, of course, they must use a premium number. For a long time there was no support line for agencies or MPs. Even staff at the Job Centre find it difficult to contact the Service Centre.

There is a systematic lack of care shown to those most vulnerable in our society and the burden of these ill-thought out processes is left with the third sector, constituency offices and Local Authorities.

Already, the Highland Council is holding over £1.6 million of arrears accrued as a direct impact of Universal Credits.

In other parts of the Highlands Albyn Housing Association has written to all tenants to ask that they pre-pay rent because they know they will be in arrears when the rollout comes to their area.

Rent arrears, first time debt, evictions, long delays to payments, short payments, lost sick notes, misplaced documents, failure to respond, confusion between departments, crushed morale of Job Centre staff- and an inability to respond to common sense are rife.

The experiences of folk who come to me for help are horrifying.

Abbey had payments stopped when she went on maternity leave. It took our office – having to pass details of law from House of Commons library – to get the DWP to accept their error. Over £2000 in rent arrears, four months to fix, surviving on food vouchers.

Leanne has cancer. This single mum of two – waited 6 long weeks for payment, when it came, it was over £500 short, including £300 for an ESA overpayment that she was never paid in the first place. Shamefully, the DWP then demanded she attended a Work Capability Assessment – against the advice of her furious GP.

Rachael was expecting a baby yet she went all through Christmas and on to April without payment. £1500 of housing arrears and close to being evicted. The DWP said they had a problem with her national insurance number. Against medical advice, your department wanted this pregnant woman, with no money, to travel 200miles from Inverness to Aberdeen and back to sort out your mistakes.

Mhairi raised 26 queries in her journal – unanswered until our office raised her case. Over £1600 rent arrears and facing eviction from her home of 16 years.

Another, John, WAS evicted due to months of no payments.

These are just some of the issues my team and I deal with every day.

Over these past two years, I have been working closely with local agencies on these issues and meet regularly with Citizen’s Advice Bureau staff and Welfare Support Staff at the Highland Council.

They say they have never seen anything like it before and for my part, it is the worst benefit rollout I have seen.

Earlier this year I set up a local Universal Credit round table, which includes staff from the Highland Council housing team, the Welfare Support team, the Citizen’s Advice and the DWP. It is worth noting that local staff from all these agencies have been incredible throughout this shambolic rollout. They have worked together to find solutions, always putting the people at the heart of the process. So far, this is very far removed from our experience of the UK Government on this matter – I hope this will change.

On several occasions, both in writing and on the floor, I have invited you and your Ministers to come to Inverness and hear all about the impact this rollout is having and to better understand the process issues that need to change.

While Jeanne Freeman the Minister from the Scottish Government has attended a meeting, your Ministers have flatly refused to.

On Wednesday you agreed to meet one of your own colleagues to discuss the issues of Universal Credit, therefore I do hope you will now show my constituents the same courtesy and meet with me.

I also wish to re-issue my invitation to you and your Ministers come to Inverness and hear from my constituents, Local Authority staff, and the Third Sector and to work with us to find solutions to these issues.

On Friday the 3rd of November I will be hosting a Universal Credit Summit in Inverness which will hear testimony from those at the heart of the suffering of Universal Credit. I also extend an invitation to you and your Ministers to attend this event.’

Speaking about the roll-out of the Universal Credit, Hendry said: ‘’I want the prime minister to hear from my constituents, local authority staff, and the Third Sector and to work with us to stop this awful mess.

“On a daily basis now I hear utterly horrifying stories of financial hardships – evictions – and personal humiliation.

‘’The roll out of Universal Credit has been nothing short of a disaster – and for those it has failed it has been a personal catastrophe.

‘’I have consistently urged the UK government to act on the mountain of evidence, including from their own agencies and delivery partners, on the harm this shambles is causing.

‘’It isn’t working. It never has. The Tories know it and they must halt it now.

“Theresa May or any of her ministers should really come and hear the testimony from those suffering because of Universal Credit.’’

The Scottish National Party (SNP) has launched a petition calling for the government to halt universal credit now.

To sign the petition, click here. And please share it widely.

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