VULNERABLE residents in Barnsley are at risk of being exploited by criminals due to the government’s controversial Universal Credit benefits system, according to South Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner. .

Dr Alan Billings has warned that the roll-out of the revised scheme - which was intended to simplify what was thought to be a complicated benefits system - has left some claimants in a ‘highly vulnerable’ position and prey to criminals.

He spoke out after a damning report, commissioned for the United Nations, claimed cuts made to public services since austerity kicked in during 2010 had had ‘tragic consequences’.

Professor Philip Alston, the report’s author, concluded the benefits safety net had been deliberately removed, with an ‘uncaring ethos now dictating policy’ - findings the government has strongly refuted.

Almost half of low income families have been adversely affected by the change to Universal Credit, losing an average of several thousand pounds a year, the report says.

In Text Promo Image

Dr Billings said Universal Credit was ‘causing real concerns’ as people don’t get money up front so they are waiting as much as five weeks to get paid.

“You have a really toxic mix of people not getting money when they need it, then getting a lot of money and the danger is they go through it rather quickly,” he said.

“These are situations where people may be tempted to do things they should not do, to feed their children. I think there is a link there between that form of benefit.”

Universal Credit includes a range of different payments made to those who qualify but it has been the subject of criticism after first-time claimants were made to wait five weeks before receiving money.

This, Dr Billings said, was one of the reasons why criminals have recruited hard-up residents who need to make quick cash.

“That is not to say everyone on Universal Credit is in the least bit a criminal, but you can see it puts people in an appalling position where they have to feed their children and pay the rent,” he added.

“The moment they get into debt they are highly vulnerable to people who offer to pay their debts. They are in hock to them and they demand all sorts of things. You can see the links between criminality and poverty.”

Universal Credit was cited as one of the main reasons why Barnsley residents’ reliance on food banks in the town increased during 2018 by more than 18 per cent, which resulted in more than 3,000 children receiving emergency three-day food parcels.

Barnsley East MP Stephanie Peacock told the Chronicle the continued dependency on food banks was a ‘national disgrace’.

“Demand for emergency food parcels has grown every year under this Tory government, and once again the finger is pointed at their flagship Universal Credit policy as the cause of this increase in Barnsley,” she added.

“Growing dependency on food banks should shame us all, and this government need to act urgently to fix their disastrous policies that are causing increasing hardship for people struggling here in Barnsley.”