November Bedford Independent Column – Universal Credit is not fit for purpose

I have long argued that Universal Credit is not fit for purpose. Sadly, I’ve seen countless examples of it failing my constituents since it was rolled out in Bedford and Kempston in 2018.

Numbers of claimants in our area have risen as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, as people fall through the gaps of the Government’s support packages.

It’s a hard reality that job insecurity will be a feature of the slow economic recovery when we are finally able to put Covid-19 restrictions behind us.

Last week, a long-recognised error in the UC system finally led to the Department for Work and Pensions putting in place new regulations following four single mothers winning a legal case against the Government in June.

Many claimants who work, but whose employer’s pay dates clash with the set-in-stone UC assessment period dates, have repeatedly had their benefit incorrectly calculated resulting in wildly fluctuating payments, often by hundreds of pounds a month.

Claimants are now able to check their UC payment calculations online ahead of payment and challenge errors so payment is automatically recalculated.

Whilst this is a better outcome, I am hugely frustrated that the DWP’s solution still puts the onus onto the claimant to check their payment is correct, rather than fixing the crux of the problem and moving assessment dates so that they no longer risk clashing with pay dates.

For the many claimants who have fallen prey to this issue, it has been a nightmare.

Through no fault of their own, rent arrears have been amassed, homes have been lost and people have been forced into debt they struggle to repay.

Some have had to give up work to avoid losing their homes – that way, at least their monthly income would be predictable. So much unnecessary and avoidable stress and anxiety for so many people, all to protect a system that was always unfit for purpose.

On paper, Universal Credit is sold as a benefit that allows people to work, to avoid having to sign on and off each time their job circumstances change and in theory enables claimants to budget in the same way as anyone else working and receiving regular payments.

In practice, the UC system failed to recognise that a double work payment was being counted during one assessment period, leading to a low or even zero payment, which resulted in a person’s life being thrown into chaos.

I urge anyone who claims Universal Credit who is either aware that they have already experienced this issue, or thinks this might explain fluctuating payments, to ask for a Mandatory Reconsideration of any payments where this might have occurred.

Find out how to do this

Also in recent days, yet another shocking loophole in Universal Credit regulations was exposed, following a court ruling that the DWPs policy in operation since 2013, which meant disabled students have been unlawfully refused a work capability assessment and therefore couldn’t claim the Universal Credit to which they should have been entitled. It’s been estimated 30,000 disabled students may have been adversely affected.

Anyone who applied before 5 August, when the Government closed the loophole, may ask for the decision to be challenged.

Now more than ever, we need a benefits system that provides a genuine safety net. There should be no gaps for eligible people to fall through.

To get there, the Government must put the needs of claimants first, close all loopholes and admit policy failures rather than sacrificing those it’s meant to protect.

The published article can be read on the Bedford Independent’s website

Opportunity to make your voice heard on ME

Opportunity to make your voice heard on ME

If you are a constituent of Bedford and Kempston who suffers from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), your views and experience could help shape significant changes with the current Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) benefit assessment and interview processes.

I was pleased to speak recently at a debate in the House of Commons about the urgent need to fund and support research to find more appropriate treatment for sufferers of ME. Some 250,000 people suffer from ME, with 25% of individuals house or bed-bound, yet the only treatments available on the NHS treatments available on the NHS, have been shown to be ineffective, and can even worsen their condition.

There are also significant concerns that those with ME are being discriminated against as a result of a lack of fair access to the benefits to which sufferers may be entitled. I and my colleagues in the Labour Party continue to put pressure on the government at every opportunity as their hostile policies toward people living with disabilities and illness when they make benefit claims must be reformed. Medical evidence is largely overlooked or given little weight within the DWP’s assessment processes, which include interviews and physical assessments.

Many individuals within the ME community have voiced concerns about health assessors who carry out these assessments for benefits displaying an insufficient understanding of ME and not properly applying the assessment criteria. These factors, combined with tests which often leave a patient exhausted for weeks afterwards, mean that we assessments must become more accessible and accurate for those with ME.

A recent meeting with senior SNP MPs and representatives from the DWP has resulted in a request to all MPs to submit case studies from constituents with ME who have encountered these or any other issues whilst making a claim and being assessed for benefits.

If you have ME and have previously made a claim for benefits, attended an assessment or interview, or are attempting to do so currently, and would be happy to me to share your experiences, please contact my office by email on or call 01234 346525.

Your personal details do not have to be shared as you can remain anonymous, but your experience could help shape more considered, accurate, appropriate and humane benefit assessment processes.