Comment: Universal Credit should provide food for thought

Mark Lancaster
Mark Lancaster

I organised a Food Forum last week, in conjunction with Iain Stewart MP, where charities who distribute food to those in need, like the Food Bank, and food suppliers such as Tesco and Costco, met to discuss how they could work better together.

With use of food banks rising ten fold under the last government what was striking was the number of people the charities are supporting, both those who find themselves homeless and who are struggling to afford to feed themselves. With some areas in MK in the poorest 10 per cent of the country we felt it was vital we tried to help.

There was a large amount of discussion held around what the government could do to help better support these people and in actual fact it was the complexity of the current benefit system that seemed to be the cause of the problems.

You may be aware that this government is introducing some of the most radical changes to how welfare is distributed that we have ever seen.

The complexity in the existing system is exactly the reason why the change is needed. Instead of receiving many different payments like Job Seekers Allowance and Housing Benefit, those in need of help will get only one payment, the Universal Credit.

By making one payment the government is streamlining the benefit system and reducing how much it costs to administer. The aim of the system is to make work pay, while supporting those who need help most. A single person will be able to claim up to £18,200 and a couple up to £26,000 in total per annum.

The benefit change that has been talked about a lot recently is that to housing. £23billion is spent on Housing Benefit each year in our country, a staggering amount. The previous government, understanding that this figure was unsustainable, introduced a system whereby those on housing benefit who rented a privately owned house would have to pay extra if they wanted a spare bedroom.

This government has extended that policy to those who rent a council house.

With nearly one third of social housing tenants living in accommodation too big for their needs and the number of people who need housing increasing this move is absolutely necessary.

The Discretionary Housing Payment fund has been trebled and this will mean those who need an extra room for legitimate reasons such as carers, foster children and service personnel will be able to apply to the fund and keep the room.

There has been much spin surrounding this change and I would urge you to look beyond the headlines at the details.

No doubt when the Universal Credit is introduced on April 1 there will be teething problems, but this is an incredible opportunity to improve our country and walk away from the benefit culture we seem to have walked into. I would urge you to remember that if you are affected by the changes and you do have problems, I am here to help and easily contactable on 01908 686830.