Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Concerns raised as Universal Credit rolls out in Edinburgh

Universal credit

The controversial Universal Credit benefit system is being rolled out across Edinburgh.

Foodbanks say they are preparing for increased demand, as those being moved to the new system can expect a five weeks wait for their first payment.

An estimated 10,500 local council tenants are expected to be moved to Universal Credit by 2023.

The Scottish Conservatives say the new system is widely supported and funds are in place to aid the roll-out.

But the Trussel Trust say they expect this December to be the busiest since foodbank records began.

Better knowledge

Bethany Biggar, operations manager at the Edinburgh Food Project, told the BBC Scotland news website that her foodbank, like many support agencies are preparing to deal with an increase in usage.

She said: "Christmas is already a very difficult time of year for most families who are living in poverty, so it's a double barrelled difficulty.

"In areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out already, the Trussel Trust has seen an overall increase in demand.

"Based on that we can prepare - we are trying to increase our knowledge of Universal Credit so we can offer support to people and make sure we are prepared."

Ms Biggar is concerned that a rise in foodbank demand could deplete stocks for next year.

Earlier this month, the Trussel Trust, a foodbank network, called for action on Universal Credit waiting times after finding Scottish foodbank use had risen by 15% on the same period in 2017.

Laura Ferguson, of the Trussel Trust, said: "It's completely unacceptable that anyone is forced to turn to a foodbank in Scotland, and we'll continue to campaign for systemic change until everyone has enough money coming in to keep pace with the rising cost of essentials like food and housing."

The Trust cites issues with payments as one of the most common reasons for referral to their foodbanks.

What is Universal Credit?

Universal Credit is a payment to help with living costs, replacing six benefits:

  • Child tax credit
  • Housing benefit
  • Income support
  • Income-based jobseeker's allowance
  • Income-related employment and support allowance
  • Working tax credit.

People on a low income or out of work may be eligible, depending on where they live and their circumstances.

In some areas of Scotland, there is an option to be paid once or twice per month.

Source: gov.uk

Prof Philip Alston, United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, referred to the new service as "Universal Discredit" on a recent UK visit.

He added: "As I spoke with local authorities and the voluntary sector about their preparations for the future roll-out of Universal Credit, I was struck by how much their mobilisation resembled the sort of activity one might expect for an impending natural disaster or health epidemic."

In a ministerial statement on Tuesday, Scottish Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell said the UN rapporteur's report on poverty in the UK is a "damning indictment of UK government policy".

The cabinet minister added that the report highlights a "deeply flawed approach to welfare reform" adopted by the UK government.

'Right in principle'

Currently being phased in across the UK, Universal Credit aims to make the benefits system simpler and more flexible - so people who are able to work are rewarded for doing so.

The Department of Work and Pensions insists universal credit is working and that people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the old system.

It says the programme will increase the number of people in work by around 200,000 and bring in a £34bn return over 10 years.

In the Budget Chancellor Philip Hammond announced an extra £1bn over five years to help those moving to the new payments and a £1,000 increase in the amount people can earn before losing benefits, at a cost of up to £1.7bn a year.

A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives said: "Everyone agrees Universal Credit is right in principle, and the UK government is working hard to ensure it goes well in practice.

"That's why an extra £1.7bn was invested in the roll-out at the recent budget.

"With more welfare powers coming to Scotland, the SNP is going to have to change from complainer to implementer - and it will find out just how difficult is it to deliver a fair and sustainable benefits system."

Glasgow City areas Castlemilk, Drumchapel and Shettleston will begin to move to the service in December.

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