Midlothian South MSP calls for halt to Universal Credit

Christine Grahame MSP
Christine Grahame MSP

Midlothian South MSP Christine Grahame has renewed calls for an immediate halt to Universal Credit after it was revealed that councils are spending millions of pounds offsetting the policy.

Ms Grahame (SNP) said Midlothian Council has lost £340,000 in the past year and is expected to lose £3.3 million in the next four years as a result of rent arrears caused by issues with Universal Credit payments. She claims arrears have already increased from £1,167,625 to £1,531,575 in the year following the introduction of Universal Credit in Midlothian

However, the council told the Advertiser that since April there has only been a small increase in current tenant rent arrears of £8,000, in Midlothian since April 2, 2018 from £1,531,575 to £1,540,146, and it will review the original £3.3m estimate.

SNP MSP Christine Grahame said: “Universal Credit is a broken system – it’s leaving people destitute, driving children into poverty and forcing families to rely on foodbanks in Midlothian, with foodbank usage in Midlothian up 15 per cent in the past year.

“Unsurprisingly people end up falling behind on rent, ultimately leaving Midlothian Council short of money that is sorely needed for local schools, social care and other vital services. The blame for this does not lie with those tenants who simply cannot pay what they don’t have, but with Tory politicians who continue to support Universal Credit despite the overwhelming evidence that it is punitive to the poorest.

“I am baffled that Labour, who lead Midlothian Council as a minority, is content to continue to be propped up by Conservative councillors when that very party is responsible for leaving them over £3.6 m short for vital local services.

“The fact that £3.6m is being lost to key public services is indefensible but there’s an easy solution – Labour councillors should cut loose from the Tories and halt the rollout of Universal Credit or, better still, support putting all welfare powers in the hands of the Scottish Parliament so we can build a social security system which puts dignity, fairness and respect at its heart.”

A DWP spokesperson defended Universal Credit, she said: “Our research shows that many people join Universal Credit with pre-existing arrears, but that number falls by a third after four months. We have also introduced an extra two weeks’ housing benefit for people moving onto Universal Credit from the old system, to smooth the transition.

”In Scotland, people can choose to be paid twice monthly or have their rent paid directly to their landlord.

“Meanwhile, Scotland has the power to top-up existing benefits, pay discretionary payments and create entirely new benefits altogether.”

Michelle Ballantyne MSP (Con) added: “Universal Credit a major change to our social security system, and one which is a dramatic improvement on the legacy benefits system which kept claimants trapped on welfare.

“The fact of the matter is that UC is working for 80% people, the key challenge is ensuring that it works for everyone and vulnerable people do not slip through the cracks.

“However, I would encourage Christine Grahame to speak to her own party about this. After years of complaining about not having control over benefits in Scotland, the SNP are finding out how hard it is to set up an efficient benefits system. We’ve already seen this week that the Scottish Government can’t even administer Carers Allowance Supplement, one of the smallest of the devolved benefits, without having to ask the UK Government for help. Due to the SNP’s failings on this front the taxpayer now has to pay an additional £7 million for a system that was already in place. It goes to show again that the SNP is full of talk but, when it comes to meaningful action, is found badly wanting.

“Christine Grahame says that universal credit putting pressure on council budgets. Perhaps Ms. Grahame needs to be reminded that it is her SNP Government who have slashed funding for councils by £220 million this year, leaving councils so poor that tax payers have had to cough an extra £189 million just to plug the gap.”