Birkenhead MP Frank Field warns town will feel force of 'mega wrecking ball known as Universal Credit'

Wirral Globe - 08 Nov 2017

CAN you believe that over the next few months our local food bank is going to need 15 more tonnes of food, on top of its normal stock level, to prevent families being hungry?

Even once you've come to terms with this frightening prospect, you could be forgiven for thinking what on earth is capable of triggering this unprecedented level of need.

The reason, I'm afraid, is simple.

Birkenhead is about to feel the full force of a mega wrecking ball known as Universal Credit.

Universal Credit, which arrives here next week, is the Government's flagship welfare reform.

It seeks to simply the welfare system by combining six benefits and tax credits into one monthly payment.

Sounds fine, in principle.

But the timing of its introduction to Birkenhead, six weeks before Christmas, could not be worse. How so?

Even if Universal Credit functions as it should, it takes six weeks to calculate each person's entitlement and then pay their claim.

That is not a misprint.

The system is actually designed to leave poorer families without an income for six weeks.

So while lots of children will be queuing up to see Father Christmas, there will be other children and their parents queuing instead to get into the food bank.

I have asked ministers, on four separate occasions in the House of Commons, to guarantee that the system works so well that our food bank does not, in fact, require 15 more tonnes of food.

They have, on each occasion, failed to offer that guarantee.

Might I, therefore, make a plea for Globe readers to buy an extra item, or two, when they next do their shopping, and, if they want those items to be used locally, to donate them specifically to Wirral Foodbank?

Feeding Birkenhead remains heavily involved in providing meals for children, both during term time and the school holidays, but the Foodbank in particular is in need of donations to build up our last line of defence against hunger, which looks set to come under heavy assault from Universal Credit.

In a separate move, again to try and bolster this line of defence, I am trying to encourage the Government to provide a daily list to the local authority, and Birkenhead's main housing associations, of people who are moving onto Universal Credit.

The aim here is to help officers renegotiate the Council Tax payments and rent accounts of those tenants who are likely to be without money for six weeks, to minimise the risk of evictions and court proceedings.

As a third move, I have tabled a motion in the House of Commons, with cross-party support, which instructs the Government to cut this six-week wait. The motion is due to be debated and voted on next week.

I would like to report, briefly, on another breakthrough in the campaign to counter crime and antisocial behaviour in Birkenhead.

Following this campaign, the police have agreed to send a representative to one of my advice surgeries each month.

They will be there specifically to listen to, and act on residents' concerns.

The first session was really successful and the Police have promised to come back to me with updates on each case.

My next surgery will be on Friday, November 17. The police will be along the following week, on Friday November 24.