Concern is growing at the potential hardship this week’s rolling out of a controversial new benefits programme in Eastbourne will have on families.
Today (Wednesday October 11), Universal Credit is launched in Eastbourne and although the principle – bundling six different benefits into one – was widely welcomed originally as a way of simplifying the benefits system, there is increasing concern that in practice its complexity and design shortcomings are failing some of the very people it is meant to help.
Officials say this will affect all new claimants and is expected to include around 3,000 people in the first six months with well over 10,000 families locally within a few years.
Stephen Lloyd MP said he had led calls for the government to pause the national rollout of Universal Credit but it had fallen on deaf ears.
“I’m very disappointed they have not heeded my call not least as 12 Conservative MPs along with former Prime Minister John Major also asked the government to halt the rollout, to ensure some of its mechanisms could be improved.
“These include claimants having to wait at least six weeks before they receive their first payment, and for their housing benefit to be paid directly to them rather than their landlords. Both elements are causing a worrying spike in people getting into debt.
“As well as this, the original core objective to ensure people moving from unemployment into low earning jobs would keep more of their money, has also been severely undermined with the governments cuts to the work allowance element.
“However, whatever my concerns over Universal Credit, it is vital local residents in Eastbourne are supported as much as possible.”
Mr Lloyd organised a round table meeting at the View Hotel recently, pictured, of the town’s statutory bodies and organisations who will be working with new claimants
“We heard from a housing association that is already working with UC claimants how we could best support residents in their transition.
“I profoundly hope this means we can mitigate at least some of the aspects of UC which I believe are flawed. It won’t be easy though, as we heard in Hastings the FoodBank provision increased by more than 80 per cent, which is a shocking indictment of the government’s scheme.”
Eastbourne FoodBank manager Rupert Collett who attended the MP’s meeting said, “In order to meet the needs of the potentially large numbers of people locally at risk of financial deprivation and falling into rent arrears as a consequence of UC, it is essential all the agencies work together more closely than ever before.
“We need to get the message out about the potential pitfalls of this new scheme and the help which is out there.
“Stephen has done an amazing job in putting his energy behind this and I know he will continue to lobby hard in Parliament to address the problems with the administration of UC.”