It is becoming a Universal crisis - MP for Peterborough Fiona Onasanya

MP for Peterborough Fiona Onasanya

I was brought up to believe that mistakes are simply mistaken steps: you should admit error quickly, learn from it, and move on. It’s a very straightforward principle: it’s the foundation of good character. Honesty is an integral part of freedom; the deceitful are shackled to their fictions.

As autumn progresses, however, it appears that this government will continue to chain itself to premises which are unsustainable. There is no such thing as being able to have one’s cake and eat it too. Negotiations with Brussels are not proceeding well. This is not a “country that works for everyone”, nor are the foundations for any such thing being laid at the moment.

Universal credit provides a most critical example. The idea, in principle, is not a bad one: given the complexity of our benefits system, making it easier for recipients to understand and cheaper for the government to administer, sounds like a common sense approach.

However, the government needed to be careful when implementing it. I’ve heard ministers recite dry statistics about the roll-out of Universal Credit; it’s as if they want the numbers to obscure the human beings behind the figures. However, there are some facts which make the scale of the government’s mistakes apparent.

According to information obtained by the Observer newspaper, half of all council tenants who receive the housing element of Universal Credit are in arrears. 30% of them, as of September 2017, are at least two months behind. This compares to less than 10% for those who remained on the old system.

Now go beyond the statistics: picture a family that has been shifted onto Universal Credit and is trying to get by during the 6-week period before they receive their first payment.

They are behind on their rent; the nights are drawing in, and temperatures are beginning to drop. A grim choice between heating or eating awaits. Warnings are shoved through the letterbox, marked in red, advising of dire consequences if payment isn’t made immediately.

They can’t move as landlords won’t accept people on Universal Credit. They have done nothing wrong: they have followed the rules. This is one story, repeated countless times throughout our country. Yet the government is undeterred; it seems more concerned about a timetable than it does about people losing their homes.

This government has often proclaimed that it wants a “country that works for everyone.”

How much better it would be if they could pause the roll-out of Universal Credit, which is hurting and not working, at least until there is a rethink of how it is being implemented.

Furthermore, it would be better if they could be honest and say, yes, Universal Credit hasn’t worked as intended, we’re sorry, we’ll stop until we can do it properly. Such a statement would show character. Such a statement would free so many from fear, rather than continue to plunge them into this universal crisis.

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