Hartlepool MP Mike Hill challenges Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd to visit Hartlepool and see effects of Universal Credit

Hartlepool MP Mike Hill. Picture by Frank Reid.
Hartlepool MP Mike Hill. Picture by Frank Reid.

MP for Hartlepool Mike Hill has called on Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd to come to Hartlepool to see the effects of the Government’s controversial Universal Credit.

The town was chosen as a pilot area for the new benefits system, which replaces six other benefits with a single monthly payment.

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd. Photo Victoria Jones/PA Wire

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd. Photo Victoria Jones/PA Wire

But claimants and charities have reported problems including lengthy waits for initial payments and strict sanctions leading to some having to rely on food banks and soup kitchens.

This week, the government delayed seeking approval from MPs for a full nationwide roll-out of three million existing welfare claimants.

Instead Parliament will be asked to vote on transferring just 10,000 people to the Government’s flagship welfare reform.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday, Mr Hill said: “In Hartlepool, one in five claimants lose their disability benefit, and we have an estimated nine food banks.

“We were one of the pilot areas for universal credit.

“Will the Secretary of State, as part of her investigations, please come to Hartlepool to see for herself the effects of universal credit on my constituents?”

Mrs Rudd was not in the chamber at the time, but Guy Opperman, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said: “I can certainly say that universal credit is something that the Government support wholeheartedly, and that the individual matters will be looked into.”

During an earlier debate Mrs Rudd said: “The purpose of universal credit is to replace an outdated benefits system, ensuring that people are better off in work and that support is targeted to the most vulnerable.

“We recognise the challenge that this cultural shift represents. We currently provide advance payments and a transitional housing payment to claimants coming on to universal credit.”

She added over £3 billion will be spent on transitional protections for 1.1 million households.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood urged the Government to halt the rollout completely saying it is pushing many people into poverty, rent arrears and food banks.

The Department for Work and Pensions said Mrs Rudd would respond directly to Mr Hill regarding his invite to Hartlepool.

A spokesperson added: “We have long said we will be taking a measured approach to rollout, ensuring the system works for everyone.

“We will begin by supporting 10,000 people onto the benefit from July 2019, providing tailored support throughout the process.

“We will keep Parliament up to date and Universal Credit remains on track to be fully rolled out by 2023.”

Catalogue of problems with new benefit since it was piloted in town

Department for Work and Pension figures showed that 8,448 benefit claimants in Hartlepool had been moved onto Universal Credit system by last September.

Food banks in Hartlepool say many people they help have had issues with the new benefit.

Just last month, Abi Knowles, coordinator of Hartlepool Foodbank, said 99% of people see have had issues with Universal Credit that leave them short of money including deductions made for things like previous hardship payments meaning they face a choice of eating or paying the bills.

A recent national BBC television news report featured people who had experienced delays and sanctions attending Hartlepool’s St Aidan’s Church’s weekly Thursday food kitchen because they were penniless.

Also featured in the report was Hartlepool mum Hayley Reay, 43, who experienced problems with the benefit after her husband David died of cancer last April.

She has now launched an online fundraising campaign to help the various food banks in Hartlepool.

MP Mike Hill previously called Universal Credit a ‘shambles’ that was hurting the poorest in society.

And last summer, Citizens Advice Hartlepool, says it had helped thousands of people to make claims and urged the Government to make it easier for claimants to apply after a national report highlighted problems.