THE roll-out of Universal Credit has proved a “total disaster” for families in Cumbria, according to the leader of Cumbria County Council.

Labour leader Stewart Young said the controversial welfare reform had heaped pressure on low-income families and led to more children going into care.

Speaking at a meeting of the full council in Kendal on Thursday, Cllr Young said: “Our most deprived communities are dealing with the consequences of austerity imposed by this Government and the rollout of Universal Credit, which has been a total disaster.

“It is causing immense hardship. One of the consequences is families can’t cope and it’s leading to the break-up of families and leading to children being taken into care, and pressures on the service.”

He was responding to questions from opposition Conservatives about a £9.6 million overspend forecast in children’s services during 2018-19.

Opposition member Cllr John Mallinson asked how the council had got its figures so “woefully inaccurate” when setting the budget last year.

“We must have believed or should have believed, that we were going to come in on-budget,” he said. “What happened in this year that couldn’t have been envisaged last February?” said the Conservative councillor for Houghton and Irthing.

Cllr Young, the Labour member for Upperby, said overspending on children’s services was a “huge” national problem, not confined to Cumbria.

Cllr Young said: “This council is hit by a double whammy. We are trying to meet those rising pressures but trying to do it with reduced funding. We’re in an absolute catch 22.”

Around 700 children are now officially under the care of Cumbria County Council with it estimated that each costs  £4,000 a month to look after.

But a shortage of foster parents and a lack of specialist placements meaning some are placed out of county – driving up costs.

Cllr Young said some companies which cared for children recognised councils were in a tight spot and used it to hike fees.

“What’s become apparent is some providers now see this as a very lucrative business. We are instructed by the courts to ensure a child is placed in a safe environment. Where there is a shortage of supply, which is the case nationally, economics means the cost of that provision increases.

“I have to say local authorities are extremely concerned about the profiteering taking place at the expense of the most vulnerable children in our society. It’s distasteful and extremely expensive,” said Cllr Young.