Leeds MP Alex Sobel 'relieved' at Universal Credit overhaul

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A Leeds MP feels “relieved” at an overhaul of the Government’s controversial Universal Credit benefits system as the policy has also been linked to a recent rise in food bank use across the city.

Following widespread criticism of the extension of the flagship welfare reform, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd was due to scrap a House of Commons vote on plans allowing all existing claimants of six relevant benefits to be moved onto the all-in-one payment.

Alex Sobel MP.

Alex Sobel MP.

Instead she plans to seek approval to move just 10,000 claimants on to UC to monitor the way the system works.

Leeds North West MP for Labour, Alex Sobel, wants the policy scrapped. He said: “This pause is welcome but insufficient,” adding: “I’m relieved for the potentially thousands of constituents that would have moved on to Universal Credit.”

But Prime Minister Theresa May has said that the benefit – linked by critics to poverty and debt – “will be fully rolled out by 2023” as was previously intended.

From October last year the Department of Work and Pensions stopped accepting most claims for six “legacy” benefits in Leeds in the move over to UC.

But between this year and 2023, those already receiving Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Working Tax Credit were also due be migrated over to UC – a move which the latest development casts doubt on.

John Newbould, volunteer operations manager for Leeds South and East Foodbank, said that for services across the city during a count on December 28, 132 people who attended were on UC. Some 67 were waiting for their first payment, which is supposed to arrive within five weeks.

Mr Newbould said: “I think the problem for food banks is that, year on year, (we) are seeing a roughly 20 per cent increase in demand. I think that 20 per cent would be (there even) without people being put on Universal Credit.”