A COUNCIL leader has called for a halt to the national roll-out of Universal Credit, stating its effect on Portsmouth families was 'worrying.'
In a letter ahead of Monday's Budget announcement, Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson has asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, to reconsider the new system which he believed was failing families both locally and nationally.
The benefit was introduced across the city at the end of September, replacing six means-tested benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance, Jobseeker's Allowance and Income Support.
But Cllr Vernon-Jackson was concerned with its six-week waiting time as well as how Universal Credit could only be claimed online. Speaking to The News he said: 'People have been feeding back to the officers and councillors and the stuff we have been hearing is really worrying.
'This has happened everywhere that Universal Credit has been rolled out. I think it should be halted until it is sorted out.
'We are right at the end of the programme in Portsmouth, and the government has had months and months to get it right. The effect on families has been that they have no money for food, no money for electricity and no money for rent.
'We are providing a lot of help through our libraries because it all has to be done online and not everyone has access to computers.
'Really the government should have set up support groups themselves.'
His concerns were echoed by Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan after a report by the Public Accounts Committee condemned the system. 'Universal Credit is already rolling out in Portsmouth and this report highlights our concern about potentially disastrous consequences for low-income families,' he said.
'The secretary of state has now admitted that some families will be worse off under Universal Credit. She must now accept our recommendations and the hardship her approach has already caused.'
Several support groups have been set up in association with the council to help people with the change.
Samantha Tomlinson, from the Portsmouth branch of Home-Sure, explained what assistance was available. She said: 'We start our workshop projects next week. At the moment we are just waiting to see who comes along. Once we start meeting people we can get a feel for what problems they are experiencing.
'If people need support with Universal Credit and they have a family with children aged up to 19 they can come to our Universal Credit workshops.
'We also have Budget Buddies which helps people by seeing how they can manage their money. If people want to get involved with either of these services they can contact their family hub who will refer them to us.'
A full list of support groups in the city can be found on the council's website.