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Over 1000 extra people in Cornwall on Universal Credit

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Published by Emma Carton at 8:43am 15th November 2018. (Updated at 9:24am 15th November 2018)

By Local Democracy Reporters, Annie Gouk and Richard Whitehouse

More than a thousand extra people in Cornwall were put on Universal Credit in October - despite the system falling into apparent chaos.

New figures from the Department for Work and Pensions have revealed that 9,969 people in Cornwall were on the benefits system as of mid-October.

That's up from 8,487 people just a month earlier, meaning a further 1,482 individuals in Cornwall were moved on to Universal Credit last month.

The increase in the number of people on universal credit in Cornwall means that one in every 56 people in the county are now on the scheme. That's a slightly lower rate than the national average.

The increase occurred just before the Government postponed the next stage of Universal Credit, following public backlash against the benefits and mounting pressure from critics.

Andrew Mitchell, Cornwall Council Cabinet member for housing, highlighted the impact of Universal Credit in the county at a recent Cabinet meeting.

He said the scheme had been rolled out across Cornwall over the past year but said the number of claimants in the county was still "relatively low".

Despite this he said there had been an impact, adding: "The impact on other services and the voluntary sector is small but quite pronounced.

Partner organisations like Citizens Advice Cornwall and food banks around the Duchy are reporting an increase in people needing to use their services".

Councillor Andrew Mitchell

Cllr Mitchell said the budget announcement by the Chancellor, that an extra £1 billion would be provided to help with Universal Credit, would help ease problems but that some of the impacts from the new scheme were yet to be seen. "This is still the calm before the storm", he warned. 

He added: "(At) Cornwall Housing we have 672 families that are claiming (Universal Credit). The rent arrears (for those families) totals just under £300,000, that is roughly £440 per household.

"People on Universal Credit have a much higher risk of rent arrears.

"What we do need to do as Cornwall Council is make sure that we mitigate and make sure that everybody who is in a position to claim Universal Credit is as well off as they can be.

"We led a campaign over bedroom tax, I think we need to expand that to Universal Credit".

Councillor Andrew Mitchell

He called on council chief executive Kate Kennally to comment on Universal Credit and “make sure that we are ready for next year.

In response Ms Kennally said it was "an area of concern and the impact that it will have locally".

She said: "We want to make sure that we fully understand the impact here in Cornwall".

The chief executive said the council was working with partners in the public and voluntary sectors to assess the impact and that a comprehensive impact assessment was being drawn up by the council and would be brought back to the Cabinet when complete.

She said: "That will allow us to be mindful about people who are struggling and what we can do with partners to make sure that people aren't left behind here in Cornwall".

Universal Credit was first introduced in 2013 and was intended to replace six "legacy" benefits, including unemployment benefit, tax credits and housing benefit.

It was supposed to be implemented across the UK by 2017, but management failures, IT blunders and design faults mean it had already fallen at least five years behind schedule.

Following this further delay, which was announced last month, the system is now not expected to be fully operational until December 2023.

There have been a wealth of problems caused by the new single benefit. As well as leaving claimants with nothing to live on during the transition period - which takes longer than a month - many are then finding they are then worse off than they were while on legacy benefits.

Meanwhile, flaws in the system put poorer claimants especially at heightened risk of hunger, debt and rent arrears, ill-health and homelessness.

The Trussell Trust - the UK's largest food bank network - has reported that food bank referral rates in areas where the full Universal Credit rollout has taken place were more than twice as high as the national average.

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