FOODBANKS are “running out” of supplies at a time when the government’s disastrous welfare reforms are being expanded by the roll-out of universal credit, Labour warned yesterday.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams made renewed calls for ministers to pause the roll-out so that the problems — including a six-week wait for payments — can be fixed. Ms Abrahams labelled the long wait, which has forced many families into rent arrears, “particularly draconian.”
Speaking during the emergency Commons debate, Labour former minister Angela Eagle said a pause in the new benefit scheme was “urgent” because the Christmas period would see families struggling until jobcentres open again in the new year.
MPs last week supported an opposition-led non-binding motion which asked for the programme to be halted, by 299 votes to 0, with the Conservatives abstaining.
Labour wants the government to outline what action it intends to take following the vote. Ms Abrahams said: “Foodbanks are running out of food as this scheme is being rolled out.
“What is going to happen to these families that desperately need this financial support?” Labour also questioned why Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke was not present in the Commons for the debate, with his ministerial colleague
Damian Hinds attending instead. Conservative MP Heidi Allen, who has repeatedly raised concerns about universal credit and was the only Tory MP to vote for the programme to be halted, suggested that there could be a “compromise” in the government reducing the wait to four weeks.
Ms Abrahams replied: “It needs to happen urgently. [The rollout] is already happening — already 55 areas this month are having full service rolled out to them.
“The cold months are upon us. Christmas will be around the corner any moment now. We need an urgent response now.”
Ms Abrahams asked the government to bring payments forward by at least one week. She said bringing them forward by two weeks would make a “huge difference to people.”
She also called for alternative payment arrangements to be offered to all claimants when they make apply for the benefit — such as fortnightly payments, split payments and payments directly to the landlord.