Mike Hill: It’s too late for Hartlepool – MP’s post bag full of Universal Credit complaints after town chosen as pilot area

Hartlepool MP Mike Hill
Hartlepool MP Mike Hill

The sudden arrival of huge shipping containers behind the hospice and on hospital land last week has raised a few eyebrows.

What with Thirteen Housing Group stating its intention to push ahead with proposals to develop a Health Village in conjunction with the hospice, it’s easy for folk to jump to conclusions.

The University Hospital of Hartlepool.

The University Hospital of Hartlepool.

Of course no planning application has been submitted yet, so it would be absurd to think that the containers have anything to do with that particular project, but I have asked the question, hopefully to allay any fears over anybody jumping the gun.

Talking of which, the starting gun has been fired on a council-led consultation on the future of maternity services in Hartlepool.

I have already received assurances that the birthing unit at the hospital has a long term future as a ‘hub’ for town wide maternity services, but what does that mean in reality for the actual prospect of the unit remaining a place in which future generations will be born, given the dwindling numbers already reported?

As far as I can see, the survey is for expectant mums and those who have given birth recently – a limited but obviously important catchment group.

While I have already received concerns about the survey, it’s very existence does present those who want to highlight just why so many children are being born at North Tees and not Hartlepool Hospital. I therefore urge everyone to get involved and have their say in making sure this important service survives long into the future.

News this week in Parliament that the roll out of Universal Credit is to be delayed by up to five years will come as no solace to my constituents who have suffered the hardship and the ravages of its implementation for well over a year.

Hartlepool was one of the pilot areas for Universal Credit and as such our citizens have effectively been guinea pigs in the Government’s endeavours to re-shape the state benefits system and encourage more people into work.

While in theory there is nothing wrong with those ambitions, and in particular the merging of six benefits into one, problems with the system have caused unnecessary hardship.

Recognising there are issues around migration to the new benefit and delays in payment, problems with IT systems, the drastic effect of sanctions and the fact that by her own admission the Work and Pensions Secretary, Esther McVey, has said tens of thousands will be worse off, the Tories have panicked and finally acted before the problem hits their constituents.

Across the country a million homeowners will be affected. About 600,000 single parents. Nearly 750,000 households on disability benefit with two in five households set to lose around £52 a week.

In Hartlepool, my postbag over the last year has been dominated by Universal Credit issues, and organisations like the CAB have been snowed under.

Far from helping people into work, the regime has left families in poverty, under threat of eviction and branded Hartlepool with the unenviable title of having the highest unemployment rate in the country.

If Hartlepool ever had a reason to get angry with an uncaring and dispassionate Government about the damage it’s doing to decent people, then this is it.

But as we all know Hartlepool people are special. Deep down they care about their communities and their neighbours.

There is a strength of will that allows us to draw collective red lines and say enough is enough.

We see it in our everyday lives, local politics, the ability to stand strong and demand more and better; the sheer and palpable pride we have in our place. The motto is simple and emblazoned on the shirts of every player for Hartlepool United. ‘Never Say Die’.

And finally on the subject of football. I completely agree with all those who complained that not being able to watch the national team beat Spain on terrestrial TV is a disgrace. Whether you like footie or not it surely is every citizens right to watch England internationals for free and I will be raising that point in the House.