26 October 2107
Each week only 15 MPs are chosen to put a question to the Prime Minister, and having bid to do so every week, I was delighted to be on last week’s list.
Choosing the topic for my question was not difficult. The delays in payments and huge cuts for low income families on Universal Credit have been one of my prime concerns both before and since entering Parliament. With the system due to be rolled out to 400 families in High Peak next May and to over 5,000 more in the following months, it is vital to iron out problems now.
I asked the Prime Minister if she would take personal responsibility for errors which leave people in debt. I highlighted the case of Fred, who lives in High Peak and claimed Universal Credit for a short time over two years ago. This August he suddenly received a demand to repay £366. Despite spending hours on the phoneline, Fred was not told why he was being charged and over £100 a month was taken out of his wages, meaning he missed direct debit payments and incurred bank charges.
Only when I intervened as his MP did the Department of Work & Pensions admit their error and repay Fred, but he is still very upset and out of pocket.
In her reply, the Prime Minister simply stated that Universal Credit helps people – and Conservative MPs barracked me for even asking about a constituent.
My question was featured on Sky News and Radio 4’s PM programme as well as in the national press, helping to raise awareness of the problems with Universal Credit.
But a campaign needs much more than one question to the Prime Minister.
I have tabled an Early Day Motion calling on the Government to ensure that Universal Credit does not increase child poverty and am gathering supporters for a cross-Party Group to continue to scrutinise Universal Credit.
Last week I also questioned the Minister in charge of Universal Credit as part of the Work & Pensions Select Committee, took part in Labour’s Opposition Day Debate and voted in the 299 to 0 defeat of the government on the motion to pause Universal Credit, after the Conservatives and DUP abstained.
This is an unprecedented situation. The Government is trying to avoid the will of Parliament. I will continue to do all I can to hold them to account for their treatment of people on Universal Credit.
I am pleased that the Speaker has agreed an additional debate on Universal Credit – I hope to speak and that after consideration the government will make a better attempt to sort out the problems than the Prime Minister did last week.