Threat of re­volt forces re­think of ‘cat­a­strophic’ uni­ver­sal credit

Rudd de­lays full roll-out of new ben­e­fit Sys­tem must ‘work for ev­ery claimant’

The Observer - - Front Page - Michael Sav­age Pol­icy Ed­i­tor

The roll-out of the gov­ern­ment’s flag­ship wel­fare pro­gramme is to be over­hauled amid dire warn­ings about its im­pact on the vul­ner­a­ble, the Ob­server un­der­stands.

Am­ber Rudd, work and pen­sions sec­re­tary, is to scrap plans for an im­mi­nent par­lia­men­tary vote al­low­ing 3 mil­lion ex­ist­ing wel­fare claimants to be trans­ferred to the con­tro­ver­sial uni­ver­sal credit sys­tem. 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.

Rudd will now seek ap­proval from MPs only for a pi­lot scheme that trans­fers just 10,000 peo­ple from the old to the new sys­tem – a sys­tem that has been blamed for push­ing some to the brink of des­ti­tu­tion. Only af­ter the pi­lot has been as­sessed will MPs be asked to ap­prove the full roll-out.

A White­hall source said that Rudd wanted “uni­ver­sal credit to re­ceive a fresh par­lia­men­tary man­date and be per­son­ally sure the sys­tem is work­ing in the in­ter­ests of ev­ery claimant”.

The shift comes af­ter a stream of con­cerns from char­i­ties, MPs and cam­paign­ers about the im­pact uni­ver­sal credit has had on claimants new to the ben­e­fits sys­tem, with claims that it has fu­elled debt, home­less­ness and the use of food banks.

Frank Field, chair­man of the work and pen­sions se­lect com­mit­tee, which has raised a se­ries of con­cerns about uni­ver­sal credit, said: “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 on to uni­ver­sal credit.”

The pro­posed pi­lot scheme, which is ex­pected to be an­nounced in a speech this week, fol­lows a new tone from Rudd since she took her post in Novem­ber. She has sig­nalled that she wants to make changes to uni­ver­sal credit and bat­tle the Trea­sury for more re­sources, to en­sure that it works prop­erly and claimants do not have to wait weeks for their money. She has also in­di­cated con­cerns about the im­pact of the sys­tem on women.

How­ever, the con­ces­sion is un­likely to ap­pease Labour, and some Tories said that Rudd had sim­ply ac­knowl­edged she would never win a vote ap­prov­ing the “man­aged mi­gra­tion” of all ex­ist­ing wel­fare claimants. Jeremy Cor­byn’s party is call­ing for the en­tire uni­ver­sal credit pro­gramme, which rolls six work­ing-age ben­e­fits into one monthly pay­ment, to be scrapped.

The lim­ited pi­lot paves the way for the process to be fur­ther slowed should prob­lems emerge. The process, which is al­ready six and a half years be­hind sched­ule, is due to be com­pleted by the end of 2023. The White­hall source said: “Am­ber has taken a no-holds-barred ap­proach …. So she will move 10,000 claimants, and care­fully mon­i­tor this, be­fore re­turn­ing to par­lia­ment to re­port on her find­ings and seek that fresh man­date for the full roll-out.”

Torsten Bell, direc­tor of the Res­o­lu­tion Foun­da­tion think tank, said: “The fi­nal phase of the roll-out of uni­ver­sal credit is a huge chal­lenge …. In the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate, de­lay­ing the fi­nal vote also re­moves a big headache for a gov­ern­ment with quite enough dif­fi­cult votes to win.”

Paul Farmer, head of the men­tal health char­ity Mind, said: “Push­ing ahead with these plans would be cat­a­strophic for peo­ple who are too un­well to nav­i­gate the com­plex process of mak­ing a new claim. We don’t know what this pi­lot will look like, but we hope this sig­nals that the gov­ern­ment is fi­nally lis­ten­ing – giving peo­ple who re­ceive sup­port from the ben­e­fits sys­tem the se­cu­rity they need to live full and in­de­pen­dent lives.”

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