“Universal Credit is already making matters worse” – Sheffield Council’s Deputy Leader

Deputy Leader of Sheffield Council, Olivia Blake
Deputy Leader of Sheffield Council, Olivia Blake

The Deputy Leader of Sheffield Council, Olivia Blake, explains here why she believes Universal Credit needs replacing.

The Government may have delayed the full rollout of Universal Credit, but it is still coming to Sheffield for some people in November.

We all know that over recent years families have had to work harder to get by. Since 2010 the cost of living has soared and many people are trapped in low pay and insecure work – pushing many into poverty.

Universal Credit is already making matters worse. Evidence is mounting that shows delays in payments, poor administration and cuts to benefit payments mean that people up and down the country have been pushed into debt, rent arrears or even forced to turn to food banks.

Under current government plans, everyone who currently receives working tax credits or child tax credits will be moved onto it eventually.

I have personally written to Esther McVey, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, asking for a pause for those scheduled to move to Universal Credit before Christmas – the inevitable payment delays could be a disaster at that time. I have not yet had a response but will continue to fight for this.

Nationally Labour is calling for an indefinite pause until the problems can be worked through. If this cannot be achieved then Universal Credit not only needs reform, but needs replacing completely.

Digital exclusion is another key issue as claiming and maintaining entitlement to Universal Credit is done online. Many people in the city have problems with access to the internet and digital skills. It is key that people are made aware of places to get help and support and where this information will be available.

Universal Credit presents many challenges, but we are doing everything we can to mitigate these. Sheffield’s Labour councillors have acted to ensure that no council tenant will be evicted because of rent arrears caused as a direct result of delayed universal credit payments.

We are very lucky to have such amazing voluntary and advice organisations in the city but austerity has meant that many services are stretched, so we will need to work collaboratively in the face of this major change. We are also bringing the revenues and benefits service back ‘in-house’.

I am pleased that the council will move housing staff over to the DWP to ensure the right advice is being given in a coordinated manner.

Sheffield’s Labour representatives will continue to pressure the government to indefinitely halt the roll out of Universal Credit. In the meantime, we will be working hard locally to ensure that no one falls through the cracks when moving onto Universal Credit.