After a lovely week of combining meetings and events around High Peak with spending time with my boys during half term, it’s back to school -and Parliament.
Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs are involved in their leadership elections, but it’s important to continue the hold government to account and to try and effect change where it’s needed.
One of my key focuses in Parliament is driving improvements to Universal Credit which will affect around 15 million people when it’s fully rolled out, and thousands of families in High Peak.
Pushing hard across Parliament and in the media, we have already seen some improvements to Universal Credit, but it’s not enough.
In my surgeries I speak with local families who are struggling to get by, and at the food banks and food share schemes which already help over a thousand families across High Peak.
In Parliament, I regularly meet with up to 100 MPs, Peers, researchers and representatives of charities at the All-Party Group on Universal Credit which I convene and chair.
We discuss current problems which I check against people’s experience in High Peak, involving our great local Citizens Advice team and other advice workers.
A key issue raised at our last meeting is the amounts being deducted from people’s Universal Credit to cover the loan of the advance payment made to enable people to get through the minimum 5 week wait.
But other deductions are being taken for benefit overpayments, debts and loans that a claimant is often unaware of
Their Universal Credit payment – already low – is reduced by up to £200 for these repayments, often with no opportunity to question them.
Parliamentary Questions I’ve asked in the last few weeks have revealed that 10% of all UC payments are being removed.
Over half of people claiming are seeing this happen, and it’s often the reason they need to seek help from a food bank or borrow money. May have no choice but to approach companies with steep repayment terms.
The fact that their payments are suddenly reduced, seemingly for no reason, they have no control and can end up in a seemingly endless spiral of debt, is leading many claimants of Universal Credit to despair.
Some local people have even said they’ve felt driven to seek to take their own life as they see no way out.
No system should be doing this to people, so on Wednesday I’m leading a 90-minute debate, presenting the evidence to Ministers of the high levels of deductions, the lack of information for claimants, and the impact on their finances and their mental health.
There are some easy ways the government can help – without costing a lot. I hope they will listen.