This month, thousands of people in Chesterfield will see a huge change to the way they receive benefits.
Universal Credit (UC) is to be rolled out in the town at the end of November, and already many are predicting problems.
The Government says the move will simplify the system - reducing six different benefits to one payment.
But many are urging the Government to postpone the rollout, amid warnings of increased hardship and even homelessness for recipients.
Colin Hampton, from the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers’ Centre (DUWC), said: “Evidence shows people are being plunged into debt from the very outset.
“People on Universal Credit are nearly one and a half times as likely to seek advice on debt issues compared to those on other benefits.
Vulnerable people will be particularly hardest hit.Colin Hampton, DUWC
“The uncertainty about how much money people will receive and when it will arrive is having a detrimental effect on people’s health, relationships as well as throwing their budgeting into chaos.
“The fear is that as people become unable to meet their financial commitments and debts, evictions will begin to rise.”
Along with Trussell Trust Foodbanks, Derbyshire Law Centre, Derbyshire Citizens Advice and a number of Trade Unions, DUWC is now calling on the Government to ‘pause and fix’ the benefit before extending it anywhere else.
Evidence from the Erewash area has highlighted a number of problems with people waiting between six and 12 weeks for their first payment without any income.
Even with advance payments, which have to be paid back, this has led to an ‘alarming’ rise in the number of people turning to foodbanks.
“Vulnerable people will be particularly hardest hit,” said Colin.
“Citizens Advice evidence shows that nearly a third of people claiming have made 10 or more calls to the helpline to sort out their claim.
“Our fear is that the already overstretched voluntary and community sector is expected to fill the gap left by government cost cutting through job centre closures.
“Whatever people think of the aims of the Universal Credit system, the Government should not ignore the evidence that has been available throughout the pilots and early implementation.
“When so many people and organisations are calling for a ‘pause and fix’ it is time for the decision makers to take notice.”
Toby Perkins, Chesterfield MP
“The Government’s flagship Universal Credit programme is clearly unfit for purpose in its current form and needs postponing. Over a quarter of claimants are having to wait more than six weeks for payments, causing rent arrears, mounting debts and resulting in families unable to put food on the table. If the Government continue with the planned roll-out in November, I suspect there will be hundreds of my constituents who have no income over the Christmas period.
“The Government need to listen to housing providers, The Citizens Advice Bureau and the countless other agencies, who are warning them that Universal Credit will cause hardship and homelessness. The areas where UC have been piloted have shown that 73 per cent of claimants end up in rent arrears. We’re also seeing an increase in private landlords refusing to offer tenancies to UC claimants.
“We already have a rough sleeping problem in Chesterfield, and UC has the potential to make this worse unless the Government pause the programme and make changes to ensure people are not left for weeks on end without any money at all.”
Maggie Throup, Erewash MP
“The successful roll-out of Universal Credit has already taken place across Erewash, replacing an often complicated system of welfare, with a single benefit that is specifically designed to incentivise work.
“In reality, very few constituents have approached me with problems as a result of receiving Universal Credit, and no one has yet contacted me about the six-week maximum waiting time.
“I have also met with representatives from my local Jobcentre recently to discuss how the implementation has progressed, and was further reassured that they felt Universal Credit was a significant improvement to the way in which welfare payments have been administered in the past. They also explained how the changes are already having a positive impact on their clients.
“If, however, any Erewash resident is in receipt of Universal Credit and they are having a specific issue, then I would urge them to get in contact with me as I would be more than happy to make representations on their behalf.”