Opinion: Universal credit is causing hardship

East Ham MP Stephen Timms asked Home Secretary Priti Patel about how workers on time-limited visas w

East Ham MP Stephen Timms asked Home Secretary Priti Patel about how workers on time-limited visas will be protected during the coronavirus crisis. Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

All party Select Committees in the House of Commons carry out much of the most detailed and effective scrutiny of the government.

The chairmen of the committees are allocated between the parties; the number held by each party depends on how many MPs it has.

Work and Pensions has a Labour chairman. All MPs can vote, and I am delighted to have been elected new chairman of the Work and Pensions Select Committee. It was previously Frank Field, but he is no longer an MP.

I was a minister in the Department for Work and Pensions four times, and from 2010 to 2015 shadow minister.

Since 2015 I have been chairing the parliamentary Labour Party's backbench DWP committee.

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This parliament will see the roll out of Universal Credit (UC).

The original idea - merging benefits to simplify the system - was good, but implementation has been dreadful.

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In particular, the five-week delay before entitlement to benefit is causing serious hardship - debt, homelessness, food poverty.

The Trussell Trust has reported that Universal Credit claimants are two-and-a-half times more likely to be food bank users than those still on the old benefits.

Ministers need to fix the problem.

Claimant experiences of assessments for Employment and Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payment remain very poor.

People who are disabled or seriously ill are often refused benefit, despite strong supporting medical evidence.

They may eventually succeed on appeal, but only after a long and stressful delay.

I also want the committee to look at progress with auto-enrolment into workplace pensions, protections against pension fraudsters, and child support.

Our first evidence session will be with the Health and Safety Executive, because I'm worried ministers have been down-playing health and safety at work.

I'll be very interested to hear from constituents with experience which might help the committee.

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