14/01/2019

MLA's Hit Out At Controversial Universal Credit

Elected representatives in Northern Ireland have hit out at the Government's new welfare benefit Universal Credit due to several flaws, including the controversial two-child limit and delays in payments.

The provision supports people on a low income or who are unemployed with costs such as housing, children and childcare, and provides financial support to those living with disabilities.

It is being phased-in across the UK in an effort to combine six widely used benefits into one single monthly payment.

UUP MLA Robbie Butler said it has been "chaotic and dysfunctional" from the moment it was first announced, and called for the clearly "unravelling" scheme to be suspended.

"Last weekend the Government announced that it was delaying the transfer of three million people from the old benefits system to Universal Credit, and now plans to extend the benefits cap to families of more than two children born before April 2017 have been ditched on the same day that four working single mothers won a major High Court challenge against them with potentially far reaching consequences."

The Lagan Valley MLA added: "My Party agreed, and still agrees, that it made perfect sense to try to simplify the welfare system and merge so many different elements of support into one single benefit, but unfortunately the Government has totally mishandled the creation and roll-out.
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"These latest announcements from the Department of Work and Pensions are just the latest in a long list of defeats, U-turns and revised timescales. It's clear to everyone, even many Tories, that the current plans are broken and that's why I believe they should be suspended immediately, rather than simply delayed."

Meanwhile, the SDLP's Social Justice Spokesperson Nichola Mallon welcomed the Government's u-turn on its plan to extend the two-child benefit cap to those born before April 2017, but added that the cap should be scrapped altogether.

"I've spoken with many mothers and fathers who have been worried sick about the fact that from the 01 February, their third child was to be singled out from siblings and hit by this two child limit rule simply because they were born before April 2017, before the policy was even introduced," the north Belfast MLA said.

"Over a quarter of children in Northern Ireland are living in poverty. As the Child Poverty Action Group stated in their evidence to Westminster 'You could not design a policy better to increase child poverty than this one'.  

"This u-turn is welcome news for some families but it doesn't go far enough. As well as pushing children and families into hunger and poverty, this partial u-turn now creates two tiers of families with children born after April 2017 singled out and still subject to this punitive policy. 

"Tinkering is not enough. This cruel policy and the horrendous Rape Clause need scrapped. Urgent action is also needed, given the well evidenced hardship it is causing to low income and working families, to reduce the minimum five week wait for the first payment of Universal Credit. 

"At a time when so many families are being pushed into hunger, poverty and despair they should be able to look to an Executive and Assembly to help them."



(JG/MH)

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