Church of Scotland says Universal Credit roll-out must cease

Rev Dr Richard Frazer, convener of the Kirk's Church and Society Council.
Rev Dr Richard Frazer, convener of the Kirk's Church and Society Council.

The Kirk has joined other Christian groups to call for an end to the roll-out of Universal Credit, following a “deeply concerning” report.

The National Audit Office (NAO) study says the controversial welfare entitlements system does not offer value for money and fails to meet its financial objectives.

Foodbanks in areas where it has been introduced are reportedly struggling to meet a sharp rise in demand.

In Falkirk both the SNP and Labour group leaders roundly condemned Universal Credit at the beginning of the year, a few weeks before it was introduced here.

At that time council leader Cecil Meiklejohn said it was “pushing people further into poverty”, while opposition leader Dennis Goldie said: “Our position is we will support any party any time that wants to go and campaign against Universal Credit or campaign to get a change to Universal Credit”.

This week the Rev Dr Richard Frazer, convener of the Kirk’s Church and Society Council, said of the “damning” NAO findings: “The Church of Scotland is shocked, but not surprised with the findings of this report from the National Audit Office.

“The report finds that a quarter of new Universal Credit claims were paid late”.

He added: “The result of this is that a significant number of people are being forced into increased poverty, and that civil society, including our church congregations, are having to provide emergency support to a growing number of people.

“Our congregations are proud of the support that they are providing, but we cannot ignore the reasons why people are needing this support, for example foodbanks.

“Until the issues outlined in the National Audit Office’s damning report have been adequately resolved, the Government must, at the very least, halt the continued roll-out of Universal Credit. No more people should have to suffer because of these failings”.

Together with the Baptist Union, the Methodist Church and the United Reform Church the Kirk wants the Westminster government to commission independent research into the effects of Universal Credit and devise a system which meets people’s needs.

Figures from the Trussell Trust show that between March 2017 and March 2018, 1,332,952 emergency food supplies were distributed to people across the UK. Low income is the main reason for referral and accounts for nearly 30 per cent of foodbank use.

The research, which analysed foodbank use in areas where ­Universal Credit had recently been rolled out, revealed an average increase of 52 per cent in the 12 months following the rollout dates of Universal Credit.