NINE Scottish councils have been forced to set aside almost £8 million to undo the damage caused by the UK Government’s botched Universal Credit roll-out, as MPs call for the minimum six-week wait before claimants receive their first payment to be reduced.
Freedom of Information requests have exposed the devastating impact of the Tories flawed flagship welfare reform, adding further pressure on PM Theresa May to fix what is increasingly resembling a disaster in waiting.
Opponents of the new system have seized on the shocking revelations as a further reason why the accelerated roll-out, from 5 to around 50 regions per months, should be paused to allow time to fix the broken system.
Aberdeen City Council have reportedly set aside £2.85million for the “potential impact of welfare reform which includes the roll-out of Universal Credit”, while Midlothian Council believe it’ll cost over £3 million due to increased rent arrears and having to take on additional staff at a cost of £86,000.
Highland Council have increased protection against bad debts it expects to be caused by the UC roll-out by £650,000, as well as an additional £124,000 to deal with “increased preventative work on managing rent arrears”.
Inverclyde have set aside £1.26million, while South Ayrshire Council have reserved £900,000 to cover “mitigating the impact of welfare reform” including Universal Credit. Meanwhile, Perth & Kinross Council estimate bad debts could cost around £442,000.
In total, the nine councils who responded to the FOI request have set aside £8.7 million in funds, which could have been spent on improving public services, to help undo the consequential effects of Universal Credit and other welfare changes.
SNP MSP Maree Todd has warned this could be just the tip of the iceberg, as most Scottish Councils did not respond to the FOI.
Speaking to the Daily Record, Maree Todd said: “The relentless roll-out of universal credit makes no sense. It’s driving people into poverty and severe hardship – leaving councils to foot the bill.
“Universal Credit is the worst example of unthinking Tory austerity – a policy designed to save money but actually proving very costly indeed.
“Almost £9million has been set aside by local authorities to sort out the Tories’ mess. That means funding diverted from schools, roads and vital local services.
“And the figures only represent a fraction of what price councils may have to pay once the full, devastating impact of the rollout is realised across Scotland.”
Universal Credit wraps six existing social security benefits and tax credits into one single monthly payment, but claimants are made to wait at least six weeks before receiving their first payment.
The Government is under mounting pressure to reduce this mandatory waiting period, as MPs from across the political spectrum urge PM Theresa May to reduce the “cruel” wait.
An urgent report from the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee calls on the Government to cut the minimum six-week wait to a month, warning that claimants are being pushed into debt and left reliant on food banks to feed their families.
Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “The baked in six-week wait is cruel. No one can give us any real justification for it.
“Such a long wait bears no relation to anyone’s working life and the terrible hardship it has been proven to cause actually makes it more difficult for people to find work.
“It is not too late for the Government to avert a Christmas disaster. They must act now.
“This urgent recommendation, of cutting that six-week wait, is the first step from the Committee in what I hope will be a series of reports on the Government’s ailing flagship welfare policy.”