Joyce promotes financial advice for universal credit claimants

Joyce Watson AM highlighted the need for debt advice services, as universal credit rolls out to Mid and West Wales.

Universal credit rolled out across Pembrokeshire this month. Before the end of the year, Powys (October), Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Dwyfor Meirionnydd (December) will migrate to the new system.

At the first Assembly Questions session after the summer break ( 18 September), the Labour backbencher asked first minister Carwyn Jones what the Welsh Government was doing to support people on—and who will soon receive—the benefit. She said:

“I arranged a poverty round-table during the summer in Carmarthen, and there were representatives from the Trussell Trust. They told me that demand for food parcels has increased by 52 per cent where universal credit has been rolled out.

“One in four claimants fall into debt because they haven’t received their first payment on time, and four in 10 claimants are struggling to pay council tax, rent and bills.”

The Trussell Trust co-ordinates the UK’s nationwide network of food banks.

Mrs Watson backed demands for the UK Government to suspend the roll-out and urged the Welsh Government to support claimants. Mrs Watson continued:

“Disability Rights UK has said, given the dire state of the universal credit system, they find it beyond belief that a responsible Government would carry on migrating people into a system that clearly doesn’t work.

“In the meantime, what is the (Welsh) Government doing to support my constituents who are already in receipt of universal credit and those who are to find themselves in that position very shortly?”

The first minister replied:

“I remain deeply concerned about the fundamental flaws of universal credit. I’m disappointed that the UK Government is persisting with its roll-out. The National Audit Office’s findings on universal credit highlight many issues that we have also repeatedly raised with the UK Government.

“Through our financial inclusion work, we provide around £6 million a year, which is used to fund projects that deliver advice services within all 22 local authority areas.

“During last year—between April 2017 and March 2018—the funding supported over 73,000 people, helping them to access over £53 million of welfare benefit income for people supported. And I know that universal credit advice events have taken place across several areas around Wales.”

Over the summer, Pembrokeshire Council—in partnership with ateb, DWP and Citizens Advice—held universal credit advice surgeries in Pembroke Dock, Monkton and Haverfordwest.