MORE than half of Barnsley’s benefit claimants are being ‘left in limbo’ over delays in the government’s new Universal Credit system roll-out, according to latest figures obtained by the Chronicle.
Debt charity StepChange said many claimants are being pushed into hardship by having to wait more than a month for their first Universal Credit payment - touted as a one-for-all system - after migrating from older benefit payments.
Figures reveal Barnsley East is the worst-hit with 9,053 Universal Credit claimants, followed by Wentworth and Dearne’s 9,031, Barnsley Central’s 8,779 and Penistone and Stocksbridge’s 3,949, totalling 30,812.
However, 16,065 claimants remain on the older form of payment and are awaiting transfer to the new system, leading to fears over cash delays when the changeover - which should be completed by 2024 according to the government - happens.
A total of 4,660 are waiting to be moved onto Universal Credit in Wentworth and Dearne, 4,425 in Barnsley East, 3,990 in Barnsley Central and 2,990 in Penistone and Stocksbridge.
A spokesperson from StepChange said: “Moving from legacy benefits to Universal Credit - which rolls six means-tested benefit payments into one monthly deposit - is challenging because new claimants must wait five weeks for their first instalment, meaning some people need a budgeting advance, while others can be pushed into debt.
“Overall, Universal Credit can work to support people, but it also has features that can cause real hardship and can actually worsen people’s debt as they try to work around them.”
The roll-out has been continually criticised by Barnsley MPs, after figures of claimants soared by more than 80 per cent as a result of the pandemic.
This, they say, has been compounded by National Insurance hikes, council tax rises and a cost-of-living crisis which could plunge more into poverty.
It comes after a study, by credit management firm Lowell and research group Urban Institute, collated numbers of people claiming benefits, using high-cost loans, or able to access emergency savings.
It gives each constituency a score out of 100 which indicates how vulnerable residents are to using credit or claiming social support to ease their financial woes.
Two-thirds of people across Barnsley’s four constituencies are considered not to have emergency savings.
Wentworth and Dearne is the most financially vulnerable constituency in Barnsley, with a score of 52.3 per cent - well above the Yorkshire average of 49.6 and UK average of 46.3 - while Barnsley East’s score is 51.9 and Barnsley Central’s is 51.8.
John Healey, who represents Wentworth and Dearne, added: “Most of those affected are working families - one in three people receiving Universal Credit have a job.
“Thousands more families in our constituency are relying on payments than before the pandemic.
“The number of people claiming has gone up by 82 per cent since the pandemic’s start and working families are already struggling to get by, having been hit hard by social security cuts since 2010.
“Working families shouldn’t be forced to pay the price for Boris Johnson’s economic failure.”