Teesside MPs have hit out at the five-week waiting period for universal credit payments as it is revealed North East families are plunging into debt repayment plans to simply "put food on their tables".

New figures released by the North East Child Poverty Commission (NECPC) from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have revealed that out of 211,200 children living in universal credit households in the North East, an average of 61% (130,000) are on repayment plans.

The repayments can be for anything from energy bills and other debt to a repayment of the universal credit "advance loan" which is taken out by many families to survive the five-week wait for their first payment - and can add up to an average of £75 a month out of their entitlement.

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Out of the ten worst affected constituencies in the UK, 7 are in the North East, with the worst affected being Middlesbrough which sees 67% on repayment plans.

This is closely followed by Middlesbrough South & East Cleveland and Redcar, which both report 66%.

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Labour MPs from two of the worst affected constituencies have now spoken out against the five-week wait and debt reductions, with Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald stating they are like a "punishment" for families claiming universal credit.

Mr McDonald said: "The statistics demonstrate how Middlesbrough families in receipt or Universal Credit are impacted to a greater degree than anywhere else in the country and that is an unfair punishment in these difficult times."

Labour MP for Stockton North, Alex Cunningham, hit out against child poverty levels after the statistics revealed 65% of households with children are on repayment plans in his constituency.

He said: "As a result of over a decade of Conservative Government the North East has the highest levels of child poverty in England and Wales.

"In Stockton North almost 7000 children – a rate of 37 per cent – are living below the poverty line, with many families relying on Universal Credit to put food on their tables", he said.

"Taking away a significant portion of Universal Credit for 'debt reduction' is only worsening their hardship."

Mr Cunningham added: "After years of austerity policies and financial mismanagement from the Conservatives the current social security system just isn’t working and children are paying the price.

"It’s clear we need to see a real reform of Universal Credit that provides genuine financial security and ends child poverty for good."

This has led the NECPC to issue fresh calls to end the five-week wait period for universal credit - which they say is the "biggest driver of debt deductions for North East families".

They have also called for a reduction in the maximum rate at which deductions can be taken for repayment of a Government debt to 5% of a claimant’s benefit; and a reduction in the overall cap on deductions (for any type of debt) to 15% (from the current 25%).

Speaking about the charities recommendations, Mr McDonald added: “These are punitive measures which further exacerbate the problems faced by so many families and what the NECPC is recommending is three small yet simple steps which would go a long way towards making the children who are completely unfairly impacted by these deductions and how they are taken.”

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Michele Deans, Interim Chair of the North East Child Poverty Commission, said: "As families across our region continue to be hit hard by the cost of living crisis, it cannot be right that almost 130,000 North East children are being left with much less than they need as a result of the Government pursuing families, month after month, for money they simply do not have.

"Every pound clawed back in debt deductions is a pound less available to spend on food, utility bills or other household essentials like school-related costs – and we know from our work with organisations right across the region that debt deductions are causing immense hardship, as one of the single biggest drivers of soaring food bank use and families turning to crisis support.

"By refusing to end the five-week wait for Universal Credit, the Government is trapping already low-income families in debt, and making it even harder for parents and carers across the North East to keep their heads above water. This has to change."

The Department for Work and Pensions explained that if claimants take out an advance, they "will receive their same entitlement spread across 25 payments over 24 months, rather than 24 payments over the same period."

A DWP spokesperson added: “We support millions of people every year making sure they get the benefits they are entitled to as soon as possible and they receive a supportive and compassionate service.

“If payments are needed urgently, New Claims Advances are available under Universal Credit so nobody has to wait five weeks for their money.”