Universal Credit roll-out delayed
Vote to extend government’s flagship welfare programme to three million new claimants has been pushed back
The roll-out of Universal Credit to three million new benefit claimants is to be postponed, after the government announced it was pushing back a vote on its flagship welfare programme.
MPs were due to vote on whether to extend the controversial scheme in the next few weeks, but now Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd will seek approval for just 10,000 people to be moved on to the new benefits system this summer.
The government has, however, reiterated that all seven million claimants will be on universal credit by 2023 as planned.
News of the last-minute delay was first reported by The Observer, which said “the move is expected to be part of a major rethink designed to quell concerns about the programme’s roll-out and avoid a damaging Tory rebellion”.
Universal Credit rolls six existing working-age benefits – employment support allowance, income support, income-based jobseekers’ allowance, housing benefit, working tax credit and child tax credit – into one monthly payment.
Supporters of the scheme say it saves money and helps simplify the old complicated benefits system.
Yet it has been beset by technical problems, is over budget and more than six years behind schedule. Critics claim it has made 3.2 million households worse off, with reports it has forced many into debt, left others relying on food banks and even pushed some into prostitution.
Since replacing Esther McVey in November, Rudd has signalled that she wants to ease the impact of the rollout and demand more money from the Treasury for the system.
The Times says “many of the problems with the Tories’ flagship programme are blamed on the decision to cut £3 billion a year from its budget. That meant claimants were able to keep less of the cash they earn from work.”
In October’s budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond pledged to pump £1.7 billion into higher payments that will ease the pain for 200,000 workers, although “significantly” says The Independent, this means universal credit “will now cost more than the benefits system it replaces”.
The decision to delay the roll-out has been welcomed by Frank Field, the chairman of the work and pensions select committee, which has repeatedly warned that universal credit is pushing people into destitution.
“The government seems finally to have woken up to the human catastrophe that was waiting to happen under its ill-formed plans for moving people onto universal credit,” he said.
The Sun reports that “allies of the work and pensions secretary insisted the decision to overhaul the migration was not due to fear of a Tory revolt but because it was the right way to handle the change”.
However, “the concession is unlikely to appease Labour, which has demanded a complete overhaul and hinted it would scrap universal credit altogether”, says the Independent.