Our MPs are at loggerheads over a new system where job seekers will have to use computers to sign on.
Lancaster MP Cat Smith said the digital roll-out of Universal Credit will exclude those without internet skills from applying for benefits, calling it a “shameful betrayal”.
But David Morris, MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, said this is “simply not true”.
Universal Credit will provide one single payment for people looking for work, those unable to work because of illness or disability, or those on a low income and working.
By July 27, all new claimants in the Lancaster district will have to go online to sign on.
Face-to-face applications will only be allowed in exceptional circumstances.
Ms Smith quoted that nearly 16% of adults in Lancaster have never used the internet and 23% do not possess basic digital skills, including being able to complete an online Universal Credit form.
She said hundreds of people being unable to log on and sign on was likely to mean further pressure on food banks and greater debt.
Ms Smith also said the minimum 42-day waiting-period faced by those waiting for their benefits to transfer to Universal Credit causes “serious detriment” for the most vulnerable people and the further delay caused by this lack of access for those who are not online will likely add to this hardship.
She also worried that “digital exclusion” would mean job seekers won’t be able to apply for a minimum number of jobs a week, causing their payments to be cut through sanctions.
“Ministers have done nothing to address digital exclusion,” said Ms Smith.
“It’s those who can’t get online who will pay the price for that failure.
“Universal credit can be a lifeline for job seekers and those who are unable to work in Lancaster. More inaction from Ministers will just be another obstacle for people who are often amongst the most vulnerable in our community.
“This is a shameful betrayal by those who are supposed to be helping the vulnerable in our society.”
But Mr Morris said: “It is quite simply not true for Cat Smith MP to say that the full service roll out of Universal credit will mean people who are not IT literate will not be able to access their benefits.
“I visit Morecambe Job Centre every month and meet with the centre manager and have been feeding back any issues the staff have with the roll out and continue to do so but the issues Cat raises are not issues which exist in the roll out of Universal Credit in the area.
“There are dedicated computers in Morecambe Job Centre for claimants to use, along with staff whose only role is to help people access those computers if they do not have the skills to process the application form or to carry out the job search. I am hugely proud of the dedication of the staff in Morecambe Job Centre to ensuring that all clients are able to find work and I know a huge amount of work has gone into preparing for the full roll out of Universal Credit. I have received feedback from staff that the vast majority of clients have a mobile phone or a tablet which allow them to access the new system and there are only a very small percentage who will need to use the computer facilities in the job centre.
“Universal Credit is a huge advantage to claimants and crucially gives people the tools they need to change their lives for the better. Universal Credit claimants are given a dedicated work coach, to mentor and support people into work. And, for the first time, that work coach will stay with a person once they are in work, helping them increase their hours, earn more - and eventually move off benefits completely.”
Universal Credit is being introduced in stages. The government expects the national roll-out to the full digital service to be completed in mid June 2018.
Those needing more information on how Universal Credit will work should go to https://www.gov.uk/universal-credit or contact their local job centre.