Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn described Universal Credit as a ‘cruel system’ while visiting Hastings.
Universal Credit – a social security payment – has been rolled out across much of the country to replace six other benefits into a single monthly payment.
Mr Corbyn was asked about its effectiveness after making a speech at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings – one of the first towns where Universal Credit was introduced.
A 2018 report by the National Audit Office found that since its rollout in Hastings and St Leonards in December 2016, the town’s food banks have seen an increase in use of 80 per cent
According to House of Commons library analysis from October 2018, 5,289 households in Hastings and Rye claim Universal Credit and an estimated 10,203 households on ‘legacy’ benefits and tax credits will be transferred over to the new scheme in the next few years.
The statistics show, as of June 2018, 34.1 per cent of households in Hastings already claimed Universal Credit or would be transferred over to it in the next few years.
The NAO report quoted a property agent who said ‘only one in ten private landlords’ in Hastings will rent to claimants of Universal Credit.
Speaking on Thursday (January 18), Mr Corbyn said people have taken their lives due to the stress of changing to Universal Credit.
He said: “We (the Labour Party) would halt the roll out of Universal Credit and also end the benefit freeze which is intrinsic from the 2010 budget and that is what’s causing the problems.
“Many families are 50 pence a week worse off when they migrate to Universal Credit so we have consistently raised this in Parliament. The government has moved a bit - we forced them to reduce the waiting time before they go on to Universal Credit benefits but we are calling for the halt to all roll outs of Universal Credit and develop a system which makes sure that nobody is worse off. That’s not a big ask actually.
“And the stress levels of people going on to Universal Credit because going into debt to migrate onto it and sometimes people then get enticed into payday loans type of debt, loan sharks, and end up deeply in debt as a result of it. And then you add to that, the sanctions regime surrounding benefits and, tragically, people have taken their lives as a result of it.
“It’s a cruel system.”
Universal Credit is of particular importance to Hastings as Rye as overseeing the rollout is the constituency’s current MP Amber Rudd.
She took on the role of Work and Pensions Secretary in November 2018 and in one of her first statements said representing Hastings and Rye has given her ‘the experience of witnessing what works well and what does not’ when it comes to Universal Credit’.
She added that the people of Hastings and Rye would remain her ‘first priority’.
On Thursday morning – ahead of Mr Corbyn’s speech – Ms Rudd posted a video to her social media pages acknowledging the improvements made to the town since she won the seat in 2010.
She said: “Thanks for popping by in Hastings, Jeremy Corbyn.
“While you’re there I hope you notice that since 2010 there are 8,000 more people in employment.
“More than 500 new businesses. A rise of 17 per cent.
“7,000 more people employed in skilled jobs and 5,000 more people holding a bachelor degree or equivalent.”
She ended her video saying ‘people in Hastings and Rye know they cannot risk our recovery with a government by Jeremy Corbyn’.