THERESA May has doggedly refused to back down on the Universal Credit shambles that has left some of the country’s most vulnerable hungry and indebted, insisting that the system is working better and the new benefit is “simpler and more straightforward”.

Yesterday, during Prime Minister’s Questions, Jeremy Corbyn asked May “what planet she was on” and challenged the Tory leader to “wake up to reality” and halt its roll-out.

Even one of her own backbenchers, MP Heidi Allen, begged the Prime Minister to look again at the new benefit.

Loading article content

READ MORE: Tory tax grab leads to ONE MILLION fewer bottles of whisky sold in the UK

Over the weekend former Tory prime minister John Major described Universal Credit as “operationally messy, socially unfair and unforgiving”.

Major said his party needed to “show its heart again, which is all too often concealed by its financial prudence”.

Universal Credit involves rolling six means-tested working-age benefits into one payment, but there have been serious problems, in part because of the lengthy six-week wait between applying and receiving the first payment.

That has been exacerbated by faulty IT, administrative errors, and problems evidencing claims. Almost a quarter of all claimants have had to wait more than six weeks.

According to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), those council areas north of the Border where the benefit has already been rolled out – Highland, East Lothian, East Dunbartonshire, and Inverclyde – have seen jumps in welfare fund crisis grants.

The Cosla data also shows levels of rent arrears among those receiving Universal Credit are at least 2.5 times higher than for those who still receive Housing Benefit.

Councils recorded a rise in discretionary housing payments of more than £343,000 while welfare fund crisis grants went up by more than £94,000.

The four councils also claim to have incurred more than £830,000 extra administrative costs as a result of the introduction of Universal Credit.

Corbyn asked the Prime Minister to make the Universal Credit helpline free – telling MPs it costs people 55p a minute.

“Housing associations report an increase of up to 50 per cent in the eviction of tenants in rent arrears due to Universal Credit,” Corbyn said. “Can the Prime Minister and Department for Work and Pensions not wake up to reality and halt this process?”

May replied: “Changes have been made, performance has increased – for example, at the beginning of this year only 55 per cent of people were getting their first payment on time, that is over 80 per cent”

The Prime Minister insisted Universal Credit was “simpler and more straightforward, and makes sure that work always pays”.

Allen said she was still supportive of the benefit, but said the Government “have to get it right”.

She said the six week waiting time for the new benefit “just doesn’t work” and getting rid of it “will do a better job of supporting those just-about-managing families who are struggling to make ends meet and have no savings to cover them over that period”.

Speaking after PMQs, SNP MP Drew Hendry, whose constituency is one of the pilot areas said: “The roll out of Universal Credit has been nothing short of a disaster – and for those it has failed it has been a personal catastrophe.

“I have consistently urged the UK Government to act on the mountain of evidence, including from their own agencies and delivery partners, on the harm this shambles is causing. It isn’t working. It never has. The Tories know it and they must halt it now.”

The DWP later disputed Corbyn’s helpline claims, saying calls cost up to 9p from a landline and between 3p to 55p from a mobile, which is dependent on the mobile package.