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Damning assessment of Universal Credit

Universal Credit was lauded by the Conservative government as its flagship welfare reform which would ensure people were better off in work than on benefits.

It aimed to provide a simplified and streamlined replacement to a range of benefits, including job seeker's allowance, tax credit and housing benefit.

Funding to mitigate the impact of welfare reform in Northern Ireland was pledged in November 2016 under the 'Fresh Start' deal between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

Despite this, it was revealed this week that the number of homes in Northern Ireland affected by the controversial bedroom tax has more than trebled in six months, penalising tenants with spare rooms in their home.

It is clearly a matter of serious concern if people are facing hardship as a result of Universal Credit which is currently being rolled out across the north.

The Tories have been particularly enthusiastic about this measure with the government claiming it was all going very well.

However, a critical report out today casts considerable doubt over these claims and the effectiveness of the entire policy.

The National Audit Office (NAO), which scrutinises public spending for Westminster, has found that Universal Credit cost more to administer than the previous system of six benefits and it was not certain that it would ever deliver value for money.

The report noted that £1.9 billion has been spent on the scheme, including £0.6 billion on running costs but said that the government's expectation of an annual benefit of £8 billion 'remains unproven'.

As well as the financial assessment, the NAO also examines the impact on claimants, finding that many people have suffered difficulties and hardship, something the Department of Work and Pensions does not accept.

In fact, the audit office reported that since the programme was introduced, there have been increases in rent arrears and the use of food banks.

This is an absolutely damning report which exposes the Tory government's failure to deliver an efficient and well organised service or to take account of those suffering as a result of a poorly thought out and administered programme.

The people most affected, those who have been left in dire financial straits as a result of late payments - which could take weeks or even months to come through - are among the most vulnerable in society.

They rely on benefits for the basics and it is a disgrace that they are suffering stress or getting into debt as a result of a government imposed system that is plainly not working.

This scathing report will cause considerable alarm in Northern Ireland and shows that fears expressed about the introduction of welfare reform were well founded.

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