Universal credit has proved a difficult change to the benefits system. Since it began, the government’s welfare reform has been beset with problems. Delaying the rollout will see £500m added to the overall cost.
Universal Credit is the biggest change to the
benefits system in a generation. By 2023, nearly seven million people will be
claiming it. But it has been controversial, with critics arguing the new system
of advances and monthly payments is causing huge problems for many claimants.
universal credit claimants have said they are “scared” to move to the new benefits.Claimants are meant to transfer onto universal
credit when they have a change of circumstances, such as moving in with a new
But with claimants
having to wait at least five weeks for the payments to start and many reports
of people falling into debt, and having to resort to food banks as a
consequence, the uptake has been slow.
Advance payments of the benefit, introduced to help people through the five weeks with no money coming in, have been blamed for putting claimants into debt. Once the benefit finally comes through, payments are reduced to pay off the advance. This leaves people struggling and falling into debt.
Universal credit was meant to be fully live by April 2017.
Now, with the new
delay, it will be pushed back to September 2024.
delivery minister, Will Quince, said claimants would not lose money as a result
of the change.
The delay is mainly caused by the slow uptake and transfer to universal credit by millions of claimants who are “scared” to claim as it could see them struggling during the 5 weeks waiting period. Even though claimants are meant to report changes in circumstances, this is not happening.
Many organisations and charities are critical of the way the welfare reforms have been handled.
In a new documentary being shown on BBC 2, ‘Universal Credit: Inside the Welfare State,’ the film-makers were allowed access to meetings inside the Department for Work and Pensions. Officials are seen pondering what to do when they realise fewer people are reporting changes of circumstances and therefore being transferred to the new benefit than expected.
One programme shows Bolton mum Paula struggling to feed her family when her first universal credit payment comes in at just over £500 for a month, because of deductions to pay off the advance she took during the five-week wait.
She ends up
resorting to a food bank. “I have just got myself into one big mess and I
have lost control over everything,” Paula tells a debt counsellor.
“I am in debt up to my eyeballs and it’s not going to go away.”
tells her: “Any customer on universal credit, we already know that you’re
standing on the back foot.
“If you don’t
have money saved up already or you don’t have backup of family who can support
you, you will fall into taking an advance payment.”
She added that
benefit deductions to pay off the advance, leave people “constantly trying
to catch up”.
The senior civil servant in charge of the rollout for the past five years, Neil Couling, is filmed telling a Whitehall meeting: “We’ve got a lot of anecdotal evidence of people being scared to come to universal credit.
“It’s a potentially serious issue for us, in terms of completing the project by December 2023, but I’m urging people not to panic.”
But a few weeks
later, in September 2019, he decides to delay full rollout to September 2024,
putting £500m on the bill.
“Three, six or nine months, it doesn’t matter – the headline will be: ‘Delay, disaster’,” he says
“I would say, ‘Go safe, put the claimants first, and I’ll take the beating.'”
Mr. Couling went on to say: –
“This is the system that will form the bedrock of social security for the next 30 years.”
“I have to keep going to the destination or you have to set me a different destination, because there’s 2.6 million people, and if we get something wrong we could disrupt their lives and they’ve got no alternative. There’s no alternative bank they can go to get help. We are the payer of last resort.”
He expects universal credit to continue to grow, with 2.6 million people already on it by September last year: “Right now there’s no way I can put the brakes on and stop.”
The government always intended to introduce universal credit slowly.
Welfare delivery minister Will Quince continued:
It is “the
biggest change to the welfare system in a generation, bringing together six
overlapping benefits into one monthly payment and offering support to some of
the most vulnerable people in society.”
“It is right that we revisit our forecasts and plan, and re-plan accordingly, ensuring that the process is working well for people on benefits.”
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