An MP has called for an end to “scaremongering” about Universal Credit.
Critics claim the new benefit system has pushed claimants into debt and rent arrears, with some forced to rely on foodbanks to survive.
But Black Country MP Wendy Morton (Con Aldridge Brownhills) said Universal Credit, which replaces a range of existing benefits including Housing Benefit, was helping people find work.
Speaking in a Commons debate about Universal Credit, she said: “It is this Government who are helping people, which is why I am disappointed to have sat through a lot of this debate and heard scaremongering stories from Opposition Members.
“I do not think that helps anybody. It does not help those people who on benefit or those who may be needing to go on to Universal Credit.
“We should be working constructively, working together to create those opportunities for everybody to benefit.”
She said Universal Credit “makes work pay and helps people into work” and staff at job centres, who administer the benefit, were working hard to get it right.
Ms Morton said: “In my constituency, we do not yet have Universal Credit, but a lot of preparation is already going on in advance of the roll-out.
“It is being done through our jobcentre, which I visited a few months ago, when I was really impressed by the hard work and effort the people there were putting in to get ready for the moment of roll-out next year. I was impressed at how they were already starting, through their systems and their local knowledge, to identify the people who might need that little extra support to find their way through the new system.”
Universal Credit was introduced in full at Birmingham Broad St Jobcentre Plus (JCP), Birmingham City JCP, Birmingham South West JCP, Sutton Coldfield JCP, Washwood Heath JCP and Yardley JCP in November.
This month it comes to Erdington JCP, Handsworth JCP, Kings Heath JCP, Perry Barr JCP, Selly Oak JCP and Sparkhill JCP.
Critics say some recipients end up in debt because there is a delay before payments are received, and claimants are unlikely to have significant savings.
Chancellor Philip Hammond announced measures to reduce the delay in his Budget last month.
Birmingham City Council’s Birmingham’s Multi-Agency Welfare Reform Implementation Group warned in October that homelessness and debt will increase in Birmingham unless the Government agrees to rethink the roll-out of Universal Credit.
The chair, councillor Tristan Chatfield, wrote to Secretary of State for Work and Pensions David Gauke to voice concerns.
He said: “We know from the pilot areas that rent arrears increase significantly when Universal Credit is introduced.”
And experts elsewhere say the benefit has pushed people into debt.
Newcastle Council told a House of Commons inquiry: “We think that Universal Credit can place some vulnerable residents at risk of destitution and homelessness.” And the body which manages Newcastle’s council houses said Universal Credit claimants were more than £1 million in arrears on their rent.
Liverpool City Council reported “an increasing number of citizens contacting the service for assistance through local welfare provision, to provide funds for food and other essentials”.
The council, already dealing with funding cuts, said it was “encountering significant financial losses” because it was having to provide temporary accommodation for people who had been made homeless.
The Trussell Trust, a charity which provides foodbanks, said demand had risen in areas where Universal Credit was introduced.
It told the inquiry: “In 2016-17 foodbanks in areas of full Universal Credit rollout saw a 16.85% average increase in referrals for emergency food, more than double the national average of 6.64%.”