“UNFAIR and unforgiving.” That’s what the former Conservative Prime Minister John Major had to say about the roll-out of Universal Credit — a flagship policy of his own party.

A key feature of the controversial Tory welfare reform agenda, Universal Credit replaces multiple payments like housing benefit, jobseeker’s allowance, tax credits and income support with a single payment made once a month. 

By 2022, it is estimated that seven million people across the UK will be in receipt of the new monthly payments. 

It is supposed to simplify benefits but in reality the roll-out has been chaotic. 

The budget has been cut, the new system has been beset with IT problems and the government’s own evaluations have shown that claimants face long waits for their first payment and risk being pushed into debt, poverty or homelessness. 

Citizen’s Advice have warned that the application process itself is too complicated. People are struggling to claim what they are entitled to and it was only after huge political pressure that the call charges were scrapped for the Universal Credit helpline.  

Here in Inverclyde, the roll-out is much more advanced.

Hundreds of local families are already on Universal Credit.

There is no need to speculate about impact of Universal Credit in Inverclyde because we can see it for ourselves.

As reported in the Tele earlier this year, the number of families needing crisis grants has rocketed and the strain on the council’s money advice services is growing. 

According to the Trussell Trust, dependency on food banks in areas where Universal Credit has been introduced, such as Inverclyde, is higher than the national average. 

Across the country, it is reported that one in four new Universal Credit claimants waited more than 42 days for the first payment.

Nearly half said that moving to Universal Credit made them fall behind with rent for the first time.

The welfare system is there to help people — not make them poorer or push them into arrears. 

The evidence is clear. Universal Credit is broken and it has to be fixed. The damage done in places like Inverclyde should be repaired and the roll-out should be stopped before anyone else loses out. 

Labour MPs led a debate on Universal Credit in parliament just last week and they defeated the government in a vote calling for action. It is now time to redesign Universal Credit and make it fit for purpose.