Representatives from leading mental health charity Mind and anti-poverty charity The Trussell Trust gave evidence to the Public Accounts Committee yesterday about the roll-out of Universal Credit (UC).
Both charities have recently called on the Government to delay the roll out of UC after the National Audit Office (NAO) released a damning report highlighting how the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has not done enough to protect and support ‘vulnerable claimants’ including disabled people and people with health conditions.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said: “We presented evidence provided by those we represent further highlighting problems surrounding the much-criticised Universal Credit, which we don’t believe is being delivered safely for many people with mental health problems.
“Under Universal Credit, even those who are severely unwell and at crisis point are still being required to look for work or risking losing their benefits. We’ve also seen a real lack of support for people who aren’t well enough to manage an online claim or monthly payments. While some people with mental health problems are able to manage their money well, for others receiving one payment and being responsible for ensuring rent and bills are paid can be problematic. Taken together these problems are driving too many people into a cycle of debt, housing problems, and deteriorating mental health.
“Once again we’re urging the Government to address the serious problems with the system before they begin to move many thousands of people with mental health problems onto Universal Credit next year. We’re also calling for a guarantee that no-one receiving existing benefits will see their claim stopped before they have been moved on to Universal Credit. Under current proposals people with mental health problems risk slipping through the net if they are not able to make a claim in time. If the Government really is determined to move people over to Universal Credit, they should take responsibility for moving people onto it smoothly and safely while protecting their income and their health.”
Emma Revie, Chief Executive of The Trussell Trust, said: “No one should need to turn to a foodbank. Our benefits system was built to end hunger and destitution – Universal Credit can and must continue that legacy, but if it is to do so we need payments to cover the cost of essentials and a true Universal Support system in place: one that is funded, that people are aware of, and that includes debt support and advice for everyone moving onto the new system.
“Foodbanks have seen firsthand the impact on people when there is either no money coming in at all from a benefit payment, or that payment is reduced: people living with physical or mental health conditions skipping meals for days at a time, young families facing eviction, and single men with insecure work struggling to afford the bus fare to work.
“We’re a country that prides itself on making sure proper support is in place for each other whenever help is most needed, whether that is through our health service or benefits system – what is clear is that more must be done, and urgently, before Universal Credit can be seen as part of this tradition.”