Scottish Parliament calls for rollout of Universal Credit to be halted

Alex Cole-Hamilton was one of the MSPs calling for the rollout of Universal Credit to be halted during a debate in the Scottish Parliament today. Only the Conservatives defended the continued rollout.

We know that people are having to wait up to 6 weeks for any money at all. MSPs had some real horror stories to report which you can see in the full record of the debate here.

Alex’s speech was very well crafted – and it was candid, too. He both acknowledged and distanced himself from the Liberal Democrat role in the coalition government’s welfare reform. However, he was able to show that without us there, the Tories have done a great deal worse. Here’s his speech in full.

I often speak with hyperbole in this place about the various responsibilities that we as decision makers discharge both in this Parliament and at Westminster, but the safety net that we provide for those who, for whatever reason, cannot provide for themselves should be the measure of any civilised society. My party has a proud history in the genesis and introduction of the welfare state in the early days of the 20th century, with the first state pension introduced under Lloyd George. In the 1940s, that great Liberal William Beveridge was the catalyst for the advent of social security when he identified the original “giant evils”, as he described them, of ignorance, idleness, squalor, want and disease. It is a failure of progress that, if we strip out the antiquated language, many of those evils still hold sway in our society today.

We should remember that, until this decade, the systems of welfare in this country had not undergone significant reform since their introduction, despite generations of incremental modification. For decades, welfare reform was sought by poverty campaigners, third sector organisations and academics so that we could dispense with unneeded red tape and inject much-needed social mobility into the system.

It fell to my party, in its period of coalition government, to co-preside over that much-needed redesign. I would, however, that we had had different bedfellows in that task. There are elements of the system that underpins the process that I take no pride in at all, and there are aspects of the new system that I still find shameful. Nevertheless, I am glad that we were there, for I dread to think of the welfare system that our Conservative partners would have designed unencumbered. We all saw the measure of the ideological compass behind Conservative social policy in the ill-fated manifesto that Theresa May published in the spring.

Today, we are debating the flagship aspect of the welfare reform agenda—the roll-out of universal credit. I support the motion, which does not suggest that we tear up welfare reform or even junk universal credit but which speaks to the human cost of the inadequacies of the roll-out. A large undertaking such as that might well have been expected to have teething problems, but the difficulties in the areas of Scotland where it has started go far beyond that. People who are switching to universal credit have had to endure a six-week wait—and more—before receiving their first payment. That is intolerable in 2017, and it presents a material risk to the wellbeing of those people and their families. Put simply, it is pushing families into crisis. As we have heard, Citizens Advice Scotland has received reports of many clients resorting to emergency stopgaps such as food banks, crisis grants and food parcels, while others are going into significant rent arrears.

I support the call of my Labour colleagues for the Parliament to support a total halt to any further roll-out of the new system of universal credit until the issues that have been highlighted in the debate have been properly addressed. It makes no sense to plough on regardless and ignore the huge impact on vulnerable families that has resulted from crucial payment delays. With 25 different stakeholders backing the call, we, as a Parliament, must surely listen. The accelerated roll-out that is due in October must be delayed to prevent any more people from being pushed into financial crisis unnecessarily.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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5 Comments

  • Mmmmmm…………., as a cricket fan I always appreciate nifty footwork on a sticky wicket.

    One is reminded of St Luke 15.7, “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth”. One is also reminded of Steve Webb’s comments on LDV on 17 February 2011.

    “As a Lib Dem Minister at the Department for Work and Pensions, I thought it would be helpful to comment on the Welfare Reform Bill published today. I wrote in November that there is much in the Bill that we as a party should welcome. The Universal Credit sits comfortably with our own policy to introduce a single working-age benefit to replace the current nightmarishly complex system.

    Today’s Bill lays a framework for a radical improvement in the way welfare works in this country. It will be simpler, clearer, and will target resources at those who need it most – 85% of the increase going to households with the lowest 40% of income – while fostering responsibility and independence. Universal Credit will be flexible and dynamic, taking into the account the month-by-month changes every person experiences”.

    Ex-Minister Webb is now Sir Steven Webb, a director of Royal London Insurance, so well to him. Any chance of an up date on Uni Credit from Steve ?

  • @ Caron,,, “Alex’s speech was very well crafted – and it was candid, too. He both acknowledged and distanced himself from the Liberal Democrat role in the coalition government’s welfare reform. However, he was able to show that without us there, the Tories have done a great deal worse. “.

    Sorry, Caron, but it would have been even better crafted if he had just said,. “Sorry, we goofed”. The party will continue to submerge on 7% or less until Vince stands up (at Conference ?) and says, “Sorry, folks, we sometimes goofed in government but we’ve learned from it”. The electorate aren’t daft.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 8th Sep '17 - 9:19pm

    @David: the clue was that Steve was talking about Universal Credit as an idea. It is a good one. The way it has been implemented is shocking though and the taper levels have been hugely reduced since the Tories have been governing on their own. Quelle surprise.

  • I thought that the taper had been reduced from 65% to 63% following the cuts to the disregard. We didn’t influence Universal Credit enough, the disregard was too low and the taper was too high. When we back reducing the marginal rate of Income Tax and National Insurance to 47% it seems morally wrong to support a marginal rate of effective Income Tax and National Insurance and benefit withdrawal of 97% (I wonder if it can be even higher when Council Tax benefit reductions are included if the Council Tax is above £1539.76). I don’t understand why we supported the idea that there is no helpline for Universal Credit for people to talk to a person about their problems. Also I think it is hard to know what a person is entitled to.

    As Universal Credit is paid every month while the older benefits are paid every two weeks everyone transferring will have to wait 4 weeks or more for their first payment of Universal Credit. Perhaps it should not be rolled out to any old claimants.

  • Steve Trevethan 9th Sep '17 - 8:36am

    Does Universal Credit have similarities to the coalition phase of our party?
    “As an idea it was a good one.The way in it was implemented was shocking.”
    How do we deal with this phase, both in theory and in practice?

    “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice they are not?” (Y. Berra)

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