Patricia Gibson, MP for North Ayrshire and Arran, has backed renewed calls to halt the rollout of Universal Credit after the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) branded the scheme a ‘significant risk’ to public spending and said it was set to deliver only marginal savings; the reason the UK Government introduced in in the first place.
In its latest Welfare Trends Report, the independent forecaster estimates that Universal Credit will deliver net savings of just 2% of the social security budget by the time it is fully rolled out in 2022. Even these savings could be overly optimistic if the UK Government is forced to reverse some of the most damaging cuts.
Universal Credit was introduced in 2013 and is gradually replacing a range of means-tested benefits, such as Job Seeker’s Allowance, Housing Benefit, Employment Support Allowance and Tax Credits. It was originally intended to simplify the social security system and save money, but has been beset with design and administrative flaws, and received widespread criticism over cuts estimated to leave one million working households an average of almost £3,000 a year worse off.
The OBR report also questions UK Government claims that Universal Credit encourages more people into work, saying there was ‘insufficient evidence to judge’. With half of all UK children set to live in a household in receipt of Universal Credit, the report has led several Scottish charities to again call for the roll-out to be halted.
Speaking after the publication of the report, Mrs Gibson said:
“Universal Credit has been beset by problems from the outset. It has been delayed, shrouded in secrecy, written off hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money and faced growing opposition from charities, local councils, think tanks, third sector organisations and the public.
“Recipients are poorer under Universal Credit than under the system it is replacing. Foodbank use has increased wherever it has been rolled out and councils have reported record rent arrears.
“We were told it would make the benefits system easier to understand. That is blatantly not true. We were told it would not leave people worse off, but the evidence is clear that many are. Then we were told it would save money. That assertion is also hanging on a shoogly peg.
“The current best-case scenario is a net saving to the public purse of just 2%. Meanwhile the cost to recipients, their children and society is too high. Universal Credit is not fit for purpose, pushing unachievable requirements and harsh penalties on people already in dire circumstances. These cuts are being imposed for ideological reasons by the Tories. It is not too late for the UK Government to see sense and put a stop to it.”