Concerns about Universal Credit support following national roll-out
The government has started its national roll-out of Universal Credit (UC), but there are concerns about the amount of support for those being transferred onto the new system.
Citizens Advice has warned that while the government is working with local authorities to develop ‘Universal Support’ for UC claimants, it has only been tested across 11 sites across the country ahead of the national roll-out. In the first instance the roll-out only applies to single people applying.
Labour has attacked the implementation of the scheme, saying: “At this rate it will take 1,571 years to roll out UC.”
But the Department for Work & Pensions says UC, which rolls six existing income-based benefits – Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Employment and Support Allowance, Working and Child Tax Credits and Housing Benefit – into one, is helping move people into work more quickly, giving them “increased financial security”.
While Citizens Advice agrees that simplifying welfare is good in principle, the charity’s research with people seeking help from Citizens Advice Bureaux in UC pilot areas found that nine in 10 of its clients were ‘not ready’ for UC.
This is because one in five did not have access to basic banking; more than half said they’d struggle with online applications; and in the first roll-out area, 78% of all clients needed help with any online form.
Gillian Guy, Citizens Advice chief executive, said: “Support for claimants is key to the success of UC. Research by Citizens Advice shows that nine in 10 of our clients need assistance to deal with things like monthly payments and budgeting.
“We are concerned that as more and more people move on to UC many may not be able to access the help and support they need to understand the new system. As UC is rolled out nationally it is vital that proper support is also expanded in order to support new claimants.”
DWP claims, however, that as part of UC’s “accelerated roll-out”, which will bring more than 150 job centres on board in the next two months, evidence shows that once fully rolled out UC will boost the economy by £7bn a year.
The Department’s own research, over a four-month period, found that UC claimants are 13% more likely to likely to have been in work than those on Jobseeker’s Allowance earning more money.
Similar to previous findings, the report also confirms that new UC claimants in the expanded sites 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 do; and spend more time looking for work.
Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith MP said: “This government’s welfare reforms have saved the taxpayer £50bn and restored fairness to the system.
“The centrepiece of these reforms – UC – begins national roll out. This landmark event is a key part of our long-term economic plan, which guarantees you will always be better off in work than on benefits.”
But last November, the National Audit Office concluded that DWP’s twin-track approach to rolling out its ‘live service’ while simultaneously developing its new ‘digital service’, means Universal Credit may not be value for money regardless of how it is implemented and the cost of doing so.
Labour’s shadow secretary of state for work and pensions, Rachel Reeves MP, added that the only person who believes Iain Duncan Smith’s promises on UC is Iain Duncan Smith.
She said: “Iain Duncan Smith promised UC would save taxpayers £1.7bn 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 UC by April 2014. But the latest figures show only 26,940 people on the new benefit. At this rate it will take 1,571 years to roll out UC.”
Reeves added that Labour wants UC to work and is calling for the National Audit Office to do an immediate review of the “failing programme” to get a grip of the “spiralling waste and delays”.
(Image: c. Rui Vieira/ PA Wire)
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