Thousands of Lanarkshire’s poorest people “needlessly punished” by benefit reimbursements
Figures revealed by Glasgow MP Chris Stephens show that nearly half of all Scottish households on universal credit now see sums deducted from their claim each month as the Department for Work and Pensions collects the money.
And among the most affected are the constituencies of Rutherglen and Hamilton West and Motherwell and Wishaw.
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National figures have shown that over 200,000 households across Scotland are seeing their benefits cut by an average of £ 75 per month because of the way Universal Credit payments are made.
In February, figures showed Rutherglen and Hamilton West saw 5,400 households lose £ 399,000 in repayments, the third highest in Scotland.
Motherwell and Wishaw were the fourth worst in the country, with 5,100 households having seen £ 393,000 deducted.
In total, nearly £ 15million has been claimed by the DWP in this month across Scotland.
A total of £ 7.25million from this figure is deducted to repay so-called ‘prepayments’.
These are initial loans that people need to take out to make up the five-week wait for their first full universal credit payment.
An additional £ 2.29million has been deducted to pay off historic tax credit debts.
Rutherglen MSP Clare Haughey told Lanarkshire Live that the most vulnerable people in the region are being targeted by the system.
She said: ‘Even before the pandemic, millions of families across the UK were struggling with debt and turning to food banks due to Tory austerity policies. The coronavirus crisis has unfortunately only made these challenges worse.
“Yet even still, the Conservatives continue to take money out of the pockets of the most vulnerable.
“Turning universal credit prepayments into non-repayable grants instead of loans would help thousands of people living in this riding – the third hardest hit in February. In doing so, it would avoid the additional stress and anxiety of additional debt, and allow people to start getting out of financial difficulties. “
Motherwell and Wishaw MP Marion Fellows also denounced the situation.
She said: “These numbers show how many people in Motherwell and Wishaw constituency are being unnecessarily punished by the Tories’ welfare system. The five-week wait for universal credit should be lifted and replaced with grants that would prevent further debt and allow people to start getting out of financial trouble.
“It’s not just numbers. Everyone whose money is collected is part of our community in need of support. They are our family, our friends, our colleagues and our neighbors. The welfare system should be there to support people – not to force them to go to food banks.
“When every penny counts, many people simply cannot afford to collect advance payments from the UK government. “
In his response to Parliament to Stephens, DWP Minister Will Quince said the department had carefully balanced the duty to the taxpayer to recover overpayments with support to claimants.
He said: “Safeguards are in place to ensure that deductions are manageable. Starting in April, we further reduced the limit on universal credit deductions to 25% and extended the repayment period from 12 to 24 months, which means that a person can receive 25 payments over 24 months, which gives him more flexibility on payments.
“It will also allow claimants to keep more of their compensation, which will give them additional financial security. “
“Clients can contact the Ministry if they are experiencing financial difficulties to discuss a reduction in their reimbursement rate, depending on the financial situation. “
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