Citizens Advice has been given £39 million by the UK government
A charity has defended its involvement with the controversial roll-out of Universal Credit (UC) after a flood of criticism from poverty campaigners
The Citizen’s Advice network – including Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) – has received £39 million from the UK government’s Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to deliver a support service for claimants.
However, it has suffered a backlash from welfare campaigners and from sections of Scotland’s third sector, with some calling it “hypocritical”, given it had previously savaged UC, calling for it to be halted.
In light of the censure, which is has been voiced on social media, CAS told TFN that its criticisms of the system still stand – and that the DWP link will help it advise claimants impartially, building on what it has always done.
CAS chief executive Derek Mitchell said: “The Citizens Advice network in Scotland has seen first-hand how much hardship Universal Credit has caused to people claiming it in Scotland, and we still firmly believe that all issues causing that hardship must be addressed.
“We are the front-line of advice and support for many of those claimants, and this additional funding will boost our ability to provide the support they need. It’s important to state however that our position on problems with Universal Credit has not changed, and nor has our impartiality – which is the cornerstone of our service.
“We will continue to urge the UK government to fix flaws in the Universal Credit system, and our advice to claimants remains completely free, confidential and impartial.”
The Citizen’s Advice network took flak after the announcement of the cash deal was made by work and pensions secretary Esther McVey at the Tory party conference this week.
We will continue to urge the UK government to fix flaws in the Universal Credit system
Rob McDowall, chair of the not-for-profit Welfare Scotland group, which campaigns for a “fair and compassionate” welfare system, said: “I cannot understand how Citizens Advice, an organisation at the very heart of our communities for nearly 80 years can support a partnership deal with the DWP to assist them deliver a seriously flawed social security programme such as Universal Credit.
“Full service roll out hasn't been implemented but we are already seeing significant negative impacts the length and breadth of the country. We have thousands of stories of real people being cruely affected by this programme and I am confident Citizens Advice will have had a similar experience of Universal Credit.
“The reality is the system isn't fit for purpose and the predictable, mealy-mouthed statement from Esther McVey shows that this partnership is more about the DWP offloading the responsibility of the department to support those in need to access the benefits they are entitled to, and less about a real effort to better understand and reform the system.”
Unless the roll-out is paused, the new benefit will continue to roll out poverty to people’s doors
Comments on social media have also been critical. Scottish blogger Alex Tiffin, who writes the Universal Credit Sufferer blog, wrote on his Facebook page: “Welcome to peak Tory.
"Citizens Advice (CAB) will help you apply for Universal Credit. You then visit the Jobcentre who refer you for Universal Support at CAB. One day you're late to CAB and they inform the JC who sanction you. You go to CAB for advice… wtf circle of hell is this?”
The decision was also criticised by readers of TFN’s website.
Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group UK, responded to the Citizen Advice announcment saying any help for UC claimants is welcome, but its roll-out must be paused until well documented and in many cases devastating flaws are fixed.
She said: “Unless the roll-out of Universal Credit is paused, the new benefit will continue to roll out poverty to people’s doors.
“This is not scaremongering but the experience of claimants and their advisers on the ground.”