Amber Rudd slows roll-out of controversial Universal Credit welfare shake-up

Posted On: 
6th January 2019

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has delayed the next phase of the Universal Credit welfare overhaul amid mounting concern about its impact on claimants.

Universal Credit is set to be rolled out across the country by 2023.

According to The Observer, Ms Rudd - who took on the Cabinet welfare job late last year - has axed plans for a Commons vote in the coming weeks on transferring three million existing benefit claimants to the scheme.

Instead, Mrs Rudd will ask MPs to back a more limited pilot scheme moving just 10,000 people over to the new system.

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A Whitehall source told the paper that Ms Rudd wanted Universal Credit to "receive a fresh parliamentary mandate and be personally sure the system is working in the interests of every claimant".

Universal Credit combines six existing working-age benefits into one, in a move the Government says will simplify the welfare system and make it easier for people to return to work.

But critics have warned that the system - which has suffered a string of delays and been savaged by the public spending watchdog - is pushing claimants into severe hardship.

The Government was forced to pump extra money back into the scheme last year in a bid to quell mounting opposition from the Conservative benches to the way the programme was being handled.

The move was welcomed by Frank Field, chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, which has been sharply critical of Universal Credit's roll-out.

He 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."

Mr Field added: "The secretary of state deserves credit for revisiting these plans. As a next step, and in keeping with this new approach, it is essential for the government to proceed with ‘managed migration’ of people to universal credit only once it has proved to parliament that it will not push more vulnerable people to the brink of destitution."

Mrs Rudd is expected to detail the more limited pilot scheme in a speech this week, with the Observer reporting that the new programme will allow for the rollout to be delayed further if fresh problems emerge.

Labour said ministers needed to halt the full rollout of the "deeply flawed" system.

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Margaret Greenwood said: "Hopefully the Government is waking up to the devastating implications of its so-called 'managed migration' to Universal Credit.

"However, Universal Credit is deeply flawed and many people are due to move onto it outside of managed migration. The policy is simply not working: it is pushing many families into poverty, rent arrears and to food banks.

"The Government needs to stop the roll out of Universal Credit as a matter of urgency and deliver a social security system that supports people rather than one that pushes many into poverty."

A report published by the National Audit Office last year warned that Universal Credit had so far failed to deliver value for money and said the programme could end up being more expensive to run than the system it is replacing.

But the NAO said there was now "no practical choice" but to press ahead with the policy, given it would be "so complex and costly to return" to the previous welfare programme.