Anne Main backs Government’s “slow, learning” roll-out of universal credit

18th October 2017

Anne Main condemns efforts to wreck universal credit and welcomes the Government's “slow, learning” roll-out of universal credit.

Mrs Main also drew attention to the fact that Her Majesty’s Opposition had changed either the motion or title of the debate three times in the space of 24 hours, leaving many in parliament perplexed as to what the opposition were putting to the chamber.  Anne said, ‘the Opposition wanted to fix universal credit. Today, the word “fix” has been dropped.’

One of the advantages of having been elected to represent St Albans four times since 2005 is that I have a very long grievance and complaints database, as my husband keeps reminding me. I remember only too well the communications on working tax credit that came into my postbag when I first came to the House. People were getting requests for payback of £5,000 or £6,000, pushing their families into absolute misery. It made me realise that the system introduced by Labour was utterly broken. Since then, we have had to try to find a way to simplify the system.

The Secretary of State made an excellent speech. We need to say that universal credit is the way forward. Pausing it today—I understand that the Order Paper now reads “pause”, rather than “pause and fix” as it did yesterday—or halting it, as I notice the Scots nats say, would, in effect, be a wrecking proposal. If that is what the Opposition want to do, despite hearing all the pronouncements that this is a good system, they would be sending totally the wrong message.

The Government are in listening mode, and we are having a slow roll-out. It is excellent that there is autonomy over payments for housing rentals. There are 1,300 people on the housing list in St Albans, and people say to me, “I try to rent properties, but nobody will rent to me as soon as they know I’m in receipt of housing benefit.” At least this way they can take control of their own system. I am pleased that if people find themselves in difficulty, there is a way for universal credit to be paid directly to their landlord. As far as I am concerned, that is a belt and braces approach.

The Government need to listen to the concerns that have been raised, but—for goodness’ sake—we have had 10 years of trying to get away from Labour’s totally flawed system that left people multiple thousands of pounds in debt and squabbling in bureaucracies. Believe me, trying to get on those phone lines was a nightmare. There are teething issues, but—please, please—let us listen to them and learn from them, exactly as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) said we are doing. Let us have a slow, learning roll-out.

For whatever reason—and in a non-binding vote for the Government—Members should not to side with this Opposition motion, when the Opposition flip-flopped overnight about what they actually wanted to do. They are showing that what they really want is to revert to the totally flawed system that caused misery to many of my constituents. That is what will happen if the universal credit roll-out is halted or paused.

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