SDLP Social Justice Spokesperson Mark H Durkan has called for a drastic and immediate overhaul of Universal Credit in preparation of the financial impact of the pandemic.
Mr Durkan said recommendations from a report commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and developed by claimants themselves, must be implemented without delay.
Said the Foyle MLA: “This report makes for stark reading but unsurprising given the core problems with Universal Credit which have been apparent from the outset of welfare reform.
“This system has failed the vulnerable in our society which it was supposed to protect, the findings laid out in this report and drawn from claimants’ experiences, are testament to that failure.
“This system was never fit for purpose and the SDLP voted against its introduction here. Universal has created misery and will continue creating misery.
“There is no doubt that mitigations have cushioned the blow but our fear was that they would be unsustainable and insufficient.
“The Minister has given commitment to continue mitigations and while I welcome that commitment it is evident from my Assembly questions on the matter, that the current mitigations budget has dramatically decreased.
“Considering the number of claimants has almost doubled from since 2016 and the inescapable financial fallout of Covid-19 pummelling down the tracks, we are headed toward a welfare cliff edge without the brakes in place to stop it.”
He added: “We’ve borne witness to all-time-high food-bank usage, an increase in the number of households forced into debt and many locked into paying bedroom tax but unable to downsize due to severe shortages in the housing stock.
“Massive oversights which have failed to account for a multitude of circumstances, have unjustly penalised many individuals and families already struggling to stay afloat.
“Universal Credit was already flawed but as pressures in demand increase, particularly as furlough comes to an end, those cracks are likely to widen to breaking point.
“Now is the time to repair the problems with Universal Credit by extending and indeed strengthening mitigations, that account for the new post-pandemic climate.
“It is important to acknowledge the efforts of staff in local benefit offices, who have dealt with a dramatic increase in claims over the past three months.
“Mechanisms must be in place to ensure they are also supported going forward.
“Those in power must listen to the recommendations laid out in this report and implement them without delay.
“They must heed the lived experiences of this Dickensian social security system which provides anything but security.
“People need to know now more than ever, that our welfare system is one which meets the needs of everyone who avails of it; one which provides dignity and respect.”