Amber Rudd hints at major government climbdown on Universal Credit rollout
The rollout of the controversial Universal Credit system could face further delays as the Government boosts protections for vulnerable claimants, Amber Rudd revealed today.
The new Work and Pensions Secretary said she was reluctant to stick to a “prescribed timetable” on the implementation of the benefit amid concerns people are ending up destitute.
She also said that having to wait for five weeks between making a claim and receiving the first payment was "too long", in another softening of the Government's approach.
Universal Credit has been beset by problems and delays since it was first announced eight years ago. Just two months ago, the Chancellor was forced to pump new cash in to protect claimants.
Critics argue those switching from the old benefits system are ending up in debt due to differences in the way Universal Credit is paid, while disabled people are set to lose a £64 per week premium.
But Ms Rudd - who took over as Work and Pensions Secretary just a month ago - said she wanted to keep an “open mind” about the rollout, which is due to ramp up next year.
“The priority for me is making sure that we get it right,” she told the Work and Pensions Select Committee this morning.
“We have particular concerns… about the most vulnerable in society and some of them will take a long time to get onto Universal Credit in terms of engaging with them and getting the transfers done effectively.
“We will learn and see how long we need in order to make sure it’s effective. I would much rather every individual gets the personal attention and care getting onto Universal Credit than sticking to a prescribed timetable.”
Ms Rudd also hinted at reform to the assessment system that determines whether disabled people should get extra cash - as she noted the number of successful appeals by claimants against the decisions.
Some 72% of verdicts that disabled people receiving Personal Independence Payments do not qualify for the beneft are overturned on average.
Just this morning the Work and Pensions Committee said ministers should delay the rollout of Universal Credit until they are sure that disabled claimants are protected from the potential impact.
In a new report, it said there were not enough safeguards in place to ensure that around one million disabled people moving off Employment Support Allowance onto the new benefit will not be worse off.
Instead, they said the Government should wait to see the full results of a pilot scheme involving 10,000 claimants before sanctioning the full transition to the new regime.