Reforms ‘helping people into work’


Published: Wednesday 22nd October 2014 by The News Editor

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The Government has defended its flagship welfare reform scheme, insisting it is helping people into work.

Universal Credit, which replaces six means tested benefits, has been criticised by unions and campaign groups for being too expensive, slow and ineffective.

But Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said the programme was helping claimants find work. His department published a report which said encouraging progress was being made as Universal Credit is rolled out across the country.

The new credit will be in place in more than 90 jobcentres by Christmas. Mr Duncan Smith said the programme remained a key part of the Government’s long term economic plan.

The report said early results from the £2.4 billion programme showed it was on track to help people move out of unemployment more quickly.

It said those Universal Credit reported they were working more over a six-month period, while two-thirds found it offered a better financial incentive to work.

Once fully rolled out, the Government said Universal Credit will boost the economy by £7 billion each year, including operating savings of £700 million, compared with the current system.

Mr Duncan Smith said: “Universal Credit will help people into work more quickly and help them to earn more, giving people the confidence that work always pays, along with the economic security of a regular pay packet.

“As a key part of our long-term economic plan, not only does Universal Credit ensure that work always pays, but it will also make a significant contribution to our economy.”

More than 30,000 people have made a claim to Universal Credit and by Christmas it will be available in more than one in eight jobcentres across the country.

In a foreword to the report, Mr Duncan Smith and welfare reform minister Lord Freud said Universal Credit will deliver up to £35 billion in economic benefits over 10 years once fully implemented.

“As we deliver this great reform, we are delivering life change for people, setting them on a path from dependence to independence,” they said.

The programme was launched in 2013 in the North West and will be operating across that region by Christmas ahead of an accelerated national rollout from next February.

Officials at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said they were “testing and learning” as they went along, adding it was a “significant and complex” undertaking.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, which represents workers at the DWP, said: “Universal Credit has come to define Iain Duncan Smith’s term of office. It has been a car crash of a scheme, mired in mismanagement, covered up by spin and half-truths, with the underlying aim of punishing and demonising some of the most vulnerable people in our society. That Duncan Smith is still in his job is the great political mystery of our time.”

Chris Bryant, shadow welfare reform minister, said: “Iain Duncan Smith has repeatedly broken his promises on Universal Credit. He promised a million people would be claiming Universal Credit by April 2014, but the latest figures show fewer than 15,000 people are claiming the new benefit.

“Today Iain Duncan Smith promised 100,000 people will be on Universal Credit by May 2015. But that’s only around 1% of the total number of people who are expected to claim the new benefit.

“£130 million has already been wasted by ministers on Universal Credit and today’s announcement confirming further delays to the Government’s flagship welfare reform is extremely worrying.

“Labour wants Universal Credit to work and we would call in the National Audit Office to urgently review the delivery of this £12.8 billion programme. But there’s still no sign that David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith can actually deliver their flagship reform.”

:: Surveys by the PCS found that civil servants were suffering from increased levels of stress and ill health because of extra workloads.

Mr Serwotka said: “While ministers cheer the fact they’re cutting the civil service to the bone, their unnecessary cuts are clearly having a detrimental effect on people’s health and their ability to do their work.

“The Government has no claim to be a model employer when it is causing such high levels of stress, ill health and overwork.”

Around 87,000 civil servants’ jobs have been cut since the coalition came to power in 2010, the union said.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “One of the big problems with Universal Credit is that new claimants have to wait at least six weeks before they receive any cash support, however long they have worked or however much they have contributed. The six-week wait puts people who lose their job, or become disabled, at immediate risk of getting trapped in a debt spiral.

“And it’s going to get worse as the Government is now consulting on a proposal to make some people wait up to six months before they get any cash support.

“By forcing people to wait weeks for cash support when bad luck strikes, the Government is attacking the safety net that we all pay into from our earnings.”

Published: Wednesday 22nd October 2014 by The News Editor

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