The controversial Universal Credit is to be re-assessed by new Work & Pensions minister Amber Rudd – but she won’t be stopping the roll-out.
Former Home Secretary Ms Rudd took on the job after Esther McVey resigned over the Brexit issue.
Listen very carefully
She has promised to ‘listen very carefully’ to concerns about the flagship benefits scheme, after admitting it had problems and conceding it ‘can be better.’
Universal Credit has been under constant criticism since the government decided to streamline the benefits system in 2013 by combining payments from six separate benefits into one – Job Seeker’s Allowance, housing benefit, children’s tax credit, working tax credit, income support and employment and support allowance.
The changeover has been trialled in a number of regions before a planned national roll-out, but it has been plagued by constant criticism that late payments and administrative problems have led to people falling into debt, particularly with housing benefit.
A recent report by the Work & Pensions Select Committee was scathing in its criticism. It demanded a halt to the mass roll-out of Universal Credit until officials can ensure no more claimants are ‘pushed over the edge’ into debt.
In its report the committee said universal credit ‘falls far short of what is needed’ with vulnerable people needing more than the two hours of ‘personal budgeting and digital skill support’ currently offered.
It added: “Failure to overhaul universal support substantially now will place not only the well-being of claimants, but the success of the entire Universal Credit project, at risk.”
The cross-party committee warned that the support offered under the new system was ‘woefully inadequate’ and risked undermining the whole scheme.
In her first speech to the House of Commons Ms Rudd said: “I know that there are problems with Universal Credit, despite its good intentions. I’ve seen them for myself, I will be listening and learning from the expert groups in this area who do such good work.
“I know it can be better. I will make it my role to ensure that we deliver that through our discussions within the DWP and through discussions with Treasury. We will have a fair, compassionate and efficient benefits system.”
She said she would be listening carefully to a wide range of opinions after 80 charities and other groups called for the roll-out to be halted.
She added: “Part of the benefit of the Universal Credit roll-out is going to be making sure that we get the expert guidance from the people who have been working in this field for many years and we will certainly be doing that.”
Universal Credit is here to stay – Read more here:
Some changes in the roll-out are already being made, though it is clear Ms Rudd does not intend to halt it.
The government has previously agreed to slow the pace at which the new benefit is introduced across the UK and before her resignation Ms McVey said claimants would be given more time to switch over to Universal Credit, recipients would not have to wait as long for their money and debt repayments would be reduced.
In the Budget Chancellor Philip Hammond announced an extra £1 billion over five years to help the changeover. He also raised the amount people can earn before losing benefits by £1,000.