Tuesday, 26 March 2013

North West MP ignores benefits claimants lack of online access

Warrington South MP David Mowat defends benefit changes in the absence
of any comment or available spokesperson from the Department of Work and Pensions
on BBC North West Tonight.
As major changes to the benefits system come into place next week, further reforms such as the introduction of  Universal Credit, replacing many different benefits, is also on the way, all supported by Lancaster and Morecambe's Tory MPs.

Last night, BBC North West Tonight included an interview with Warrington South MP David Mowat in a report on benefit changes. Along with Tameside, Oldham, Wigan and Warrington is a Pathfinder 'test site' for Universal Credit roll out from the end of 29th April.

It is also an area where, the BBC reported, 40 per cent of the population have no direct access to a computer (you need to apply for Universal Credit online) and 35 per cent don't have a bank account (you have to have a bank account to be paid Universal Credit).

Challenged on the lack of online access. Mowat evaded the question by responding instead that 91 per cent of job applications are now done online (Time limited link). He claimed the government was doing more to put more computer terminals into job centres and community centres.

The government does not, perhaps, consider libraries to be "community centres". While Lancaster and Morecambe still have core library services (although Lancashire County Council closed several rural services when it was run by the Labour Party), Warrington Council announced the closure of three libraries in January 2011.

Indeed, as this Google Map indicates, library closures across the North West reveal the MP's comments as perhaps being rather misleading regarding its claimed support of 'community centres' with others services also facing closure as Councils struggle to save money in the face of sweeping cuts to their funding.

The comments are sure to worry local campaigners against the benefit changes and again expose a lack of joined up thinking on the roll out of the changes on the part of some North West MPs.

View Public Library Closures in the UK in a larger map

Two other test projects are running alongside the Pathfinder - Housing Benefit Direct Payment Demonstration Projects and Local Authority Universal Credit Pilots.
  • You can find a factsheet on Universal Credit on this Homeless.org page, along with other downloads about the new welfare landscape.
  • Take a look at the Government sponsored Money Advice Service which offers practical resources for supporting people on Universal Credit.

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