Grenfell Tower MP calls for Universal Credit launch delay
The MP whose seat is home to Grenfell Tower has urged the government to delay next week's launch of Universal Credit in the area, saying it could leave survivors without income at Christmas.
The benefit scheme is due to come to North Kensington, where the blaze left 72 dead, just 13 days before Christmas.
The first payment takes five weeks to come through, a situation Emma Dent Coad described as "unacceptable".
The government said it was providing "targeted support" for those affected.
Universal credit was designed to make claiming benefits simpler, combining six different payments into one, but has proved controversial, with reports of IT issues, massive overspends and administrative problems.
It was due to be rolled out in North Kensington in July 2017 but was delayed following the deadly tower block fire the month before. It is now set to be introduced on Wednesday.
Ms Dent Coad, who won the west London constituency of Kensington for Labour in the general election just days before the fire, wrote to then work and pensions secretary Esther McVey on 2 November urging the government not to inflict any more pain on families who had "already lost so much".
She highlighted problems they had faced last Christmas when some pay-outs to survivors by the local council were delayed.
The MP told BBC News: "It's unthinkable, they're going to have another Christmas now wondering whether they can afford to buy food, let alone presents for their children."
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said advances of up to 100% were available for people from the first day of their claim.
But Ms Dent Coad, who set up a food bank in Kensington, said in her letter that requesting advances for Christmas would leave people facing "many future months without enough income to cover their expenses".
The leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council Elizabeth Campbell also wrote to Ms McVey in March calling for the roll-out to be halted "for the foreseeable future".
Maher Khoudair, who suffers from polio, and his family survived the tragedy and now live elsewhere in Kensington.
He described the decision to roll out the scheme as "wrong" and said he did not know how some people would cope over the festive period.
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A DWP spokesperson said: "In preparation for Universal Credit roll-out in North Kensington, we have put in place a range of special measures.
"This includes providing targeted support from experienced work coaches and working closely with the local authority and Citizens Advice to offer additional help to people."
The spokesperson also said the DWP "secured a commitment to have a housing officer co-located in the Jobcentre before roll-out and then on an ongoing basis" and said the department offered a range of activities at the Curve, a Grenfell community centre, such as IT and employability courses.
The DWP is also working with the council to "further support Grenfell residents", the spokesperson added.