I am deeply concerned that the number of DWP internal reviews, held when a person claiming benefits dies or comes to serious harm has risen over the past two years. According to the Government’s own figures, the DWP has begun 124 such reviews since July 2019. Ninety-seven of those concerned people who died. I support an urgent independent investigation into this matter. In my view this should examine the impact the assessment process has on people’s mental health and what must be done to prevent future deaths. I am disappointed that the Government has ruled out doing this and will continue to keep pressing them on this.
More widely, I believe our social security system is not fit for purpose as it does not give people the support they need in difficult times. In my view, a number of reforms are needed. For example, I believe Universal Credit should have been maintained at the level it was raised to during the COVID-19 pandemic until such time as it can be replaced with a new social security system. That new system should provide a proper safety net, have dignity and respect at its heart, and allow low-income earners to keep more of their take-home pay. I also support increasing the minimum wage to £10-a-hour immediately.
The increase to Universal Credit and Working tax credits at the beginning of the pandemic was an acknowledgement of the need for more support and the fact that these benefits simply aren’t enough to live on. The £20-a-week increase, along with the suspension of conditionality and the minimum income floor, were absolutely necessary to support people through this incredibly difficult time. Levels of support for people in this country when they lose their jobs or cannot work, are significantly lower than in comparable European countries. The Government’s own estimate is that 4.2 million children live in poverty in the UK. Therefore, I believe reducing Universal Credit this April is a terrible mistake for families, for the economy and for our ability to effectively tackle and recover from the pandemic.
Furthermore, I have called on the Government to uprate all six legacy benefits by £20 a week in line with UC. Taking all these steps would provide immediate support to vulnerable people, including many who have helped to keep our country running during the pandemic.