South Shields MP slams Government’s Universal Credit scheme after damning report is released

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck.
South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck.

South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck has hit out at the Government’s flagship benefit scheme after it was criticised in a damning official report.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said Universal Credit cost more to administer than the previous system of six benefits it replaced, including jobseeker’s allowance, tax credit and housing benefit.

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The spending watchdog said it was uncertain if Universal Credit would ever deliver value for money.

Mrs Lewell-Buck said the report proves the Department for Work and Pension’s (DWP) assertion that everything is going well is false.

She said: “Prior to the rollout of Universal Credit, we warned the Government it wouldn’t work and would cause problems for people.

“We have warned them time and time again that it is driving people into hardship and not delivering the savings they wanted to deliver.

It has caused untold misery to thousands of people

Emma Lewell-Buck

“What evidence will they accept? This is the National Audit Office.

“The responsible thing for the Government to do, instead of digging their heels in, would be to recognise the problems they have caused with Universal Credit and put a stop to it.

“It has caused untold misery to thousands of people.”

Mrs Lewell-Buck added: “The responsible thing to do would be to back track and help those people.

“By continuing this, they are saying that they don’t care about those people who are struggling because of measures they have put in place.

“It’s absolutely disgusting.”

The NAO said the system’s running costs were £699 per claim against an ambition of £173 by 2024.

The national rollout was due to complete in October last year, but only about 10% of the final expected caseload are currently claiming the benefit.

The NAO report said: “The Department does not accept that Universal Credit has caused hardship among claimants but the NAO has seen evidence from local and national bodies that many people have suffered difficulties and hardship during the rollout of the full service.

“The NAO states the Department has not shown sufficient sensitivity towards some claimants and that it does not know how many claimants are having problems with the programme or have suffered hardship.”

About one in four new claims - 113,000 - were not paid in full on time last year, with late payments delayed by an average of four weeks, although some waited five months, the NAO reported.

The report noted that £1.9billion had been spent on UC, including £0.6billion on running costs, while the DWP’s expectation of an annual benefit of £8billion “remains unproven”.

A DWP spokesman said: “Previous administrations poured billions into an outdated system with a complex myriad of benefits, which locked some people into cycles of welfare dependency, whereas we are building a benefit system fit for the 21st Century, providing flexible, person-centred support, with evidence showing Universal Credit claimants getting into work faster and staying in work longer.

“Universal Credit is good value for money and is forecast to realise a return on investment of £34billion over 10 years against a cost of £2billion, with 200,000 more people in work.”