High Peak MP Ruth George has been investigating the reasons behind the rising numbers of local families needing help from Food Banks and says that deductions made from Universal Credit payments are a major cause.
Ruth, who set up and chairs the All-Party Group on Universal Credit in Parliament, asked a series of Parliamentary Questions to find out how much is being deducted from Universal Credit before payments are made.
Now she has secured a 90-minute debate in Parliament to question Ministers about the issue and to ask them to act faster.
Ruth said: “I’ve been speaking to local food banks and people who use them, as well as advice agencies and our Job Centres, to ask why so many people are struggling.
“Universal Credit is a major problem. It’s not just the low levels of support, but the fact that so much is deducted each month for advances, arrears, and overpayments. The DWP has now admitted that this amount has been steadily rising and reached 10% of all Universal Credit payments by last October.”
Ruth said most of the deductions relate to the advance payments that around 850,000 households – roughly two thirds of claimants – are forced to take out to get by during the initial minimum five-week wait.
The next highest group is the 120,000 families paying back tax credit overpayments. Many of these families didn’t know they had an overpayment until they moved onto Universal Credit and saw the deductions being made.
“These amounts were just being taken – regardless whether there was any proof of the overpayment. I’m pleased that following my questions and letters to Ministers, the DWP has now agreed to pause these deductions whilst a claimant disputes them, but it’s still very difficult to do this. Up to £200 a month is being taken from a claim by couples, and £127 from single people, leaving them without enough to get by.
“The government has agreed to reduce these maximums by 25% in October, but in the meantime more and more people are falling into hardship and having to borrow money to get by, so it becomes a vicious circle of debt that can drive families to despair.
“I’ve secured a 90-minute debate in Parliament next week to question Ministers in more detail on the amounts being deducted from Universal Credit and the problems of debt and arrears that it’s creating and I’ll be calling on Ministers to act faster.
“The recent figures showing that 22% of children in High Peak are growing up in poverty are truly shocking and I want to do all I can to help create a system that supports people when they need it, not make matters worse.”