Plaid Cymru’s Hywel Williams MP has claimed that the NAO’s (National Audit Office) strong criticism of the DWP’s (Department of Work and Pensions) Universal Credit scheme must not be ignored by Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith and force him to rethink this disastrous set of policies.
Mr Williams’ party has consistently opposed the Government’s Universal Credit plans, warning that thousands of people in Wales face the threat of getting the wrong benefits or even worse, no benefits at all.
He added that Wales is set to suffer disproportionately as a result of the changes given the high number of benefits claimants and poor internet access throughout the country given the Government’s target for 80% of claims to be made online.
Mr Williams said:
“Plaid Cymru has consistently warned that the Universal Credit scheme is deeply flawed and it gives me no pleasure to learn that our fears have been confirmed by a respected and independent watchdog, the NAO.
“While the Government claimed that the proposals would improve a complex system, the reality is that 3m households throughout the UK will suffer a cut to their benefits.
“The fact that the system will operate almost entirely online is a particular cause in Wales where 20% of Welsh adults have never used the internet according to ONS figures.
“The NAO’s criticism is regrettable although not surprising given the way in which the Secretary of State’s department has dealt – or rather failed to deal – with implementing their desired plans. This policy has exposed the Government’s shortsightedness and sheer incompetence in delivering reform. How on earth did they expect the DWP to enforce these changes effectively when, at the same time, they were cutting jobs there?
“I am also concerned that the Government still hasn't offered clarity on how Welsh-medium services will be implemented. Plaid Cymru insists that it is simply a matter of fairness that people should be able to claim these vital payments through a language and medium that will make the process as straight-forward as possible for them.
“Soon, the effects of this disastrous policy will become clear and we can expect people to be driven further into poverty and debt as payments are only made monthly and in arrears. It is particularly worrying that payments are made to households rather than individuals – a flaw that could prove disastrous in abusive relationships or relationships where there are drug or alcohol dependencies.
“The Government must take heed of this warranted criticism with urgency and abandon these regressive changes or face leaving a toxic legacy of spiraling debt and isolation among some of society’s most vulnerable people.”