OPINION: Karin Smyth MP on Universal Credit

(Newspaper column as seen in the September 2019 edition of the South Bristol Voice)

Since Universal Credit was introduced for all new claimants in Bristol South last summer, I’ve been helping constituents with many problems including delayed payments, inaccurate entitlement calculations and historic debt. I’ve also raised multiple issues with Ministers in Parliament and have been in contact with the Department for Work and Pensions to highlight concerns.   

Many people who attend my Money Entitlement Events are seeking help with Universal Credit and I’ve welcome representatives from the local Jobcentre and Citizens Advice to help work through some of these questions and problems. My next Money Entitlement event takes place between 10am and 12noon on Tue 1 Oct 2019 at Hartcliffe Community Centre. All welcome. 

I read with interest, the latest report from the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Universal Credit released in the summer. It echoes some of the issues I have identified and calls on the government to take decisive action to address these. A comprehensive and much-needed report with plenty of suggested next steps. 

Most importantly it includes calls to abolish the five-week wait for Universal Credit, as well as more flexibility with assessment periods to cater for self-employed people and those who may receive two payments within one calendar month.  

It also suggests granting children of all Universal Credit claimants free school meals and expanding phone and face-to-face support for those who may struggle with computers. And it advocates writing off historic tax credit over payments, which often occurred due to poor administration by government.   

As with my trailer safety APPG, these cross-party groups are an important part of democracy. Not only do they bring together politicians from different political parties with a shared interest in a specific subject, but they also bring in evidence from industry experts and those directly affected by the topics discussed.  

The report recognises Universal Credit as ‘the most important reform of welfare policy for decades’ directly affecting one in four people. It is hugely relevant for Bristol South and, apart from some piecemeal changes to processing times, we’ve not had a satisfactory government response to-date.  

I hope that the new government under Prime Minister Boris Johnson will take on board the recommendations of this report and I will continue to push for the changes needed.  

If you’re experiencing any problems with Universal Credit, please do get in touch via the contact details below and I’ll see if I can help.