WEEKLY columnist Ruth Wishart reacts to MSP Maurice Corry's comments in a recent edition of the Advertiser when he referred to the introduction of Universal Credit as "a positive change".


WHERE to start with Maurice Corry’s assertion in the Advertiser that Universal Credit “overall has been a positive change”.

He has, he says, “spoken with many constituents... and their experience was superb”.

Really? If so, I’d say their experience was also pretty well unique.

Among the people who have voiced grave doubts about the impact of this brave new welfare world is the current secretary of state for the UK’s Department of Work and Pensions, whose job it is to roll out this battered and much criticised reform.

According to Amber Rudd, responding to a question in the Commons: “It is absolutely clear that there were challenges with the initial rollout of universal credit, and the main issue that led to an increase in food bank use could have been the fact that people had difficulty accessing their money early enough.”

She’s worried enough to have paused the rollout.

The Trussell Trust, the biggest provider of food banks in the UK, is rather more robust. Their survey of food bank use concluded that “when Universal Credit goes live there is a demonstrable increase in demand. On average, 12 months after rollout, food banks see a 52 per cent increase. This can’t be attributed to randomness and exists after accounting for seasonal and other variations.”

But it’s not just food banks which flag up the flaws in a system rolled out before the obvious logistical hazards were factored in. Long waits for the first payment plus the use of sanctions for trivial “offences” like late arrivals at appointments, have led to rent arrears and sometimes involuntary evictions.

I’d dearly love to see the research done by Maurice on these often heartbreaking stories before he published the news that conveniently unnamed recipients pronounced their experience superb.

He compounds this by claiming the Scottish Government keeps “pushing back” the timescale for taking more control of welfare. He must be very well aware of the roadblocks to this thrown up during negotiations with the DWP, and the complexity and necessity of ensuring that pensions never suffer the same fate as benefit payments.

Every time the UK Government comes up with a new wheeze to “reform” the social security system, it winds up costing the Scottish taxpayer serious money. Millions had to be spent by the Scottish Government trying to ameliorate the impact of the “bedroom tax” where families were penalised for the sin of having a spare bedroom.

The original author of all this misery was Iain Duncan Smith, who is often found in the stately pile belonging to his father in law, Lord Cottesloe. I suspect it has a fair few “spare” bedrooms.

When he was in post, the National Audit Office ran a slide rule over his department and concluded it had “weak management, ineffective control, poor governance, a fortress mentality, a lack of transparency, inadequate financial control and ineffective oversight, as well as wasting £34million on inadequate computer systems.”