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Universal Credit roll-out begins today

The first stage of Universal Credit (UC) begins today for new claimants in Ashton-under-Lyne in Greater Manchester.

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship welfare reforms will see six benefits and tax credits rolled into one monthly payment, aimed at ensuring that additional work always pays, rather than just reducing benefits and leaving people’s net income the same as before.

The first pilot was supposed to be joined by three others – Warrington, Oldham and Wigan – but these have been put back until July. The DWP denied that they have been delayed, and says the roll-out was always going to be gradual – though in a previous statement last year, it confirmed the Universal Credit Pathfinder was meant to start in April 2013 in all four areas.

UC will replace Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, income support, child tax credit, working tax credit and housing benefits. It is designed to simplify the welfare system and reduce fraud and error, the Government says.

The switch should be complete by 2017, by when the whole system will be managed online. UC will be paid to households rather than individuals, and will be automatically adjusted dependent on earnings.

The Government estimates around 3.1 million households will be entitled to more benefits under the new system, and 2.8 million to less. Across all households, people will gain an average of £16 a month.

Duncan Smith said: “Universal Credit is nothing less than the start of a fundamental cultural shift of the welfare system. This is the first step on a long journey, and the pathfinder is our opportunity to get Universal Credit right. We will bring in this radical and vital reform in a careful and controlled way.

“We want to say to people, you're claiming unemployment benefit but you're actually in work paid for by the state: you're in work to find work. That's your job from now on: to find work.”

But Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne said: “Today’s Pathfinder is a pathetic joke, limited to a tiny number of people the scheme can handle. The truth is the scheme is late, over budget, the IT system appears to be falling apart and even DWP ministers admit they haven't got a clue what is going on.”

Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, added: “If UC was being introduced to genuinely make life easier for people entitled to benefits it would be commendable, but the Government's pernicious language exposes its real intent is to demonise and punish them.

“We have shown that ministers are prepared to mislead and misdirect to drive through their welfare cuts, so we are challenging Iain Duncan Smith and others to prove what they claim is true.

“The next time a minister says people are better off on benefits than in work, give them a pen and paper and ask them to show you how.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at [email protected]

Image c. HelenCobain


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