This week saw the start of the national roll out of Universal Credit; a new benefit system which is not without its critics, reports our feature writer, Suzanne Danon.
Over 150 Jobcentres across the United Kingdom are moving over to the new ‘simplified’ benefit system in the next two months. The expectation is that the new benefit will then be available in all Jobcentres by this time next year.
Announcing the accelerated roll out, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith described Universal Credit as the ‘centrepiece’ of the government’s welfare reforms, which have so far saved the taxpayer £50bn and ‘helped restore fairness to the system’.
“The evidence today shows that under Universal Credit, people move into work more quickly and earn more money, giving them increased financial security,” he said.
Over a four month period DWP research also showed that Universal Credit claimants are more likely than Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants to believe the benefit system is encouraging them to find work; take any job they are able to; and, spend more time looking for work.
“It is very impressive that we have seen these results so soon and that this is having a real impact on people’s lives. This is a cultural change which will alter the landscape of work for a generation.”
Mr Duncan Smith added that Universal Credit was part of the Conservative’s long term economic plan, designed to guarantee people will always be better off in work than on benefits. He also said Universal Credit had the potential to boost the economy by £7bn each year once fully rolled out.
Confidence in the new system is not shared by everyone, with Citizens Advice this week voicing concerns over levels of support being offered to those being moved onto Universal Credit. They acknowledged that the government was working with councils to develop help in the form of Universal Support for Universal Credit claimants, including getting online and budgeting skills. But highlighted that at present Universal Support was only being tested at 11 sites.
“Support for claimants is key to the success of Universal Credit,” said Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy.
“Simplifying welfare and making every hour of work pay are good principles. But we are concerned that as more and more people move onto Universal Credit many may not be able to access the help and support they need to understand the new system. As Universal Credit is rolled out nationally it is vital that proper support is also expanded in order to support new claimants.”
Labour has also doubted the success of Universal Credit, with the shadow secretary for Work and Pensions slamming Iain Duncan Smith’s ‘broken promises’.
“The only person who believes Iain Duncan Smith’s promises on Universal Credit is Iain Duncan Smith,” said Rachel Reeves MP.
“Iain Duncan Smith promised Universal Credit would save taxpayers £1.7billion in reduced error and fraud. But now he’s admitted the government has cut the amount of planned savings by two thirds.
“Iain Duncan Smith promised one million people would be claiming Universal Credit by April 2014. But the latest figures show only 26,940 people on the new benefit. At this rate it will take 1571 years to roll out Universal Credit.”
She added that Mr Duncan Smith needed come clean about how many people will lose out if Universal Credit is rolled out successfully, before adding Labour would call in the National Audit Office to review the ‘failing’ programme and get a grip of the ‘spiralling waste and delays’.
*The Conservatives announced an election pledge this week that young people who are not in work, education or training for six months, will be ‘required’ to do unpaid community work in order to receive their benefits. Prime Minster David Cameron said it was to ensure young people avoided a ‘life on welfare’.
Rachel Reeve said the government should introduce Labour’s compulsory jobs guarantee to get young people off benefits and into, insisting this would ensure young people have the chance to learn, earn and contribute.
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