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View from the House: Universal Credit concerns were ignored

PUBLISHED: 08:00 26 January 2019

Archant

In 2011, as shadow employment minister, I spent many days debating the Welfare Reform Bill. The Bill introduced Universal Credit.

Universal Credit was a good idea. It had the potential to make the system simpler.

But, in the committee, I pointed out that ministers’ plans would be beset by problems. Iain Duncan-Smith claimed that the scheme would be rolled out by 2017. I pointed out that this was unachievable.

The programme is now not expected to be fully complete until the end of 2023. The unrealistic plans mean that a lot of money has been wasted.

A vote was due in parliament this month on moving three million existing benefit claimants onto Universal Credit. The government has now bowed to pressure.

It will transfer just 10,000 people, in July, and see how it goes before transferring the rest.

The pilot in July should highlight the problems. I have been pressing ministers in the commons about the worst problem: the five-week wait between applying for Universal Credit, and being entitled to the first payment.

If short of money in that time, claimants can apply for an advance payment. But these are loans that are paid back via deductions from later Universal Credit payments. Claimants are being forced into debt at the very start of their claim. While repaying the loan, they will receive less in benefit each month than the amount calculated to cover their living costs. It is no surprise that, when Universal Credit has been introduced in an area, foodbank demand has rocketed.

These problems – and many others – were pointed out in the committee in 2011. Ministers ignored them.

They ploughed on, with scant regard for the hardship caused. Now they have finally agreed to delay transferring existing claimants, the problems must be fixed before the transfer goes ahead.

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