Dismore questions Mayor over impact of Government welfare reform

At today’s Mayor’s Question Time, Andrew Dismore AM, Labour London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden raised with London Mayor Sadiq Khan the impact of the Government’s welfare reforms. The roll out of Universal Credit has just started in Barnet’s Job Centres, and is due to start in Camden at the end of the year. (Video here)

Mr Dismore said:

‘Oblivious to the administrative problems and real hardship it is causing, the Conservative Government is forcing through the switch to the Universal Credit regime in most of London by the end of the year: it’s descending on the Job Centre near you! Given that both social and private landlords are reporting massive increases in rent arrears in areas already subject to Universal Credit, alongside other indicators of real poverty like food bank usage, homelessness, and the use of expensive payday loans, do you support calls for an inquiry into the administration of Universal Credit?

‘Of the hundreds of thousands of people now transferred to Universal Credit, 39% are in work, with low pay.  New Universal Credit claimants receive significantly less than they would have done under tax credits, due to the Conservatives’ scheme to cut £12bn a year from the social security bill.  The Resolution Foundation thinktank estimates that low-income working households will be more than £1,000 a year worse off when they move on to Universal Credit- about 2.5m families when the roll out is complete.

‘Yet in response to the Trussell Trust report on the impact of Universal Credit, the Government claimed that it is “anecdotal evidence from a small, self-selecting sample” and that “Universal Credit is working for the vast majority who claim it”. Who do you think is right, charities that help desperately hungry people day in, day out, or the Department of Work and Pensions ministers sitting behind their desks in Whitehall?’

The Mayor said that Universal Credit is having a disproportionate impact on Londoners. 1 million are at crisis point. 2,500 tenants are at risk of eviction. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission estimates 5.9 million children will be in poverty by 2022. Whilst the principle of simplifying benefits is good, its execution has seen errors made. If the Government won’t listen, he agreed an inquiry was needed.

The Government homelessness minister has said the reforms have no effect on rough sleeping numbers which is clearly wrong. The Trussell Trust do remarkable work and front-line charities, advice agencies, local authorities, and even 2/3rds of Government staff in job centres say the roll out should be paused.

Mr Dismore added:

‘Universal Credit is supposed to be simpler than the benefits it replaces but the roll out is showing just how complex and unfair it is. Applications can only be made on line and claimants have to wait 5 weeks for their benefits. it is hardly surprising that real hardship is being seen as a result, and this social security time bomb is about to explode in Barnet and Camden.’