MSP accused MP’s of “dereliction of duty” over vote

Shadow Health Minister Colin Smyth
Shadow Health Minister Colin Smyth

A Labour MSP has accused MPS David Mundell and Alister Jack of a “massive dereliction of duty” after they failed to vote on the Universal Credit issue in the House of Commons.

South of Scotland MSP Colin Smyth says the local MPs chose to abstain in the vote on a Labour motion calling for a pause in the roll-out of the disastrous new benefit which is causing misery for people on benefits across the country.

As a result of the mass “abstention” of Tory MPs in the vote yesterday, the Labour motion was passed by 299 votes to 0 but it remains to be seen whether the Tory Government will simply ignore the results of the vote.

Universal Credit has been delivered in Dumfries and Galloway since April 2016 but only for new claims from single people who in the past would have claimed Job Seekers Allowance, therefore claim volumes remain low at around 352 households. However, it will be implemented in full from February 2018 covering thousands of people on Job Seekers Allowance, Income Related Employment Support Allowance, Income Support, Housing benefit, Child Tax Credit and Working Tax Credit.

According to a report to members of Dumfries and Galloway Councils Communities this week:

“3.4 Current full service sites indicate that the claim numbers increase rapidly following go live date. Both East Lothian Council and Highland Council, which have been longest on UC Full Service, continue to report major increases in rent arrears which are not reducing through DWP recovery. Data gathered by these Councils also shows that average arrears for those in receipt of UC are more than two and a half times for those on Housing Benefit. In addition, Councils are incurring additional administrative costs because of added complexities and processes, significantly in excess of funding received from DWP. Our Council has been actively engaged with COSLA on this matter.”

Colin Smyth MSP said: “Universal Credit is causing utter misery to people across the country because of the appalling way it is being implemented. There are horror stories of people having to wait at least 6 weeks just to have their application processed. At present the roll-out in Dumfries and Galloway is aimed at single people who would have claimed Job Seekers Allowance in the past but in a couple of months it will be rolled out to almost everyone on benefits in the region and the evidence suggests this will be disastrous hitting the poorest in our communities. Where it has already had a full roll out there have literally been queues at foodbanks and massive arrears have built up for local housing associations. We can expect to see the same in Dumfries and Galloway unless the roll out is halted by the Government and fully reviewed. It is therefore an utter disgrace that David Mundell and Alister Jack didn’t even have the guts to vote on the issue in Parliament. I appreciate that neither of them will have a clue what it is like to live in poverty but to sit on the face on an issue that will have such an impact on their constituents is a disgrace”.

Galloway MP Alister Jack commented: “This was an Opposition Day Motion and it is not always the case that the Government votes on these motions, however I did attend the debate and also made a representation to the Chief Whip on Monday highlighting my concerns about the 55p per minute cost of calling the helpline, and the time delay in getting money to people during the transition phase.

“I am pleased that the 55p call line is being abolished, and this was announced before the debate even began.”

Dumfries and Galloway Council’s Communities Committee agreed today to a range of recommendations on Universal Credit.

Councillor Andy Ferguson, chair of the Communities committee, said: “Protecting our most vulnerable people and being inclusive are key priorities for our Council. I’m seriously concerned about the impact that Universal Credit will have on some or our most vulnerable people. It is vital that our Council can offer enhanced support to people who are already under severe financial pressure.”

Councillor John Martin, vice chair, said: “As a Council, we must do all that we can to ensure the wellbeing of local people. Universal credit will present a major challenge for us and the people we represent. It will be essential for us to be able to deliver robust support to those affected.”

The committee:

• Noted that Universal Credit will start in Dumfries and Galloway in February 2018;

• Noted potential impacts and financial implications for the Council and those receiving Universal Credit;

• Noted the work of the Universal Credit Delivered Locally [UCDL] partnership group; and

• Agreed the Universal Credit action plan as a base for the Council’s preparations to implement Universal Credit.

A council spokesman said: “The Council is committed to protecting vulnerable people and will do everything within its powers to ensure that people can access assistance in all our local Customer Service Centres. Assistance will include access to computers to fill in online application forms and access to telephones to contact the Universal Credit helpline.”