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Claimants ‘Scared’ As Full Roll-Out Of Universal Credit Is Delayed Again

February 5, 2020

Ministers have accused opposition MPs of scaremongering over universal credit after being forced to delay the full roll-out of their flagship benefit system for a further nine months at a cost of £500m.

The Department for Work and Pensions admitted that the delay until 2024 – which means universal credit will be at least seven years behind its original completion date – was caused in part by claimants being too scared to sign up to the new benefit.

Universal credit has been linked to increased rent arrears, debt, stress, and food bank use among its low-income claimants, who are forced to wait five weeks for a first payment after moving on to the benefit, and in many cases find themselves worse off and facing volatile monthly payments.

Formally announcing the latest delay in parliament on Tuesday – the previous delay came in October 2018 – work and pensions minister Will Quince said that fewer claimants than expected were moving on to universal credit, which he credited to more people being in work.

But in a BBC documentary to be broadcast on Tuesday evening, parts of which have been previewed by BBC news, the director general of universal credit, Neil Couling, tells fellow senior officials in the summer of 2019 that claimants were positively reluctant to move on to the new system.

He says: “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.”

A few weeks later in September 2019 Couling decides to delay full roll-out, saying it would be safer for claimants to do so, even if it might prove controversial. “Three, six or nine months, it doesn’t matter – the headline will be: ‘Delay, disaster’,” he says, adding: “I’ll take the beating [for the delay decision].’”

Asked why the decision had been kept under wraps for so long, Quince told the Commons on Tuesday that senior officials discussed issuing advice on the delay to ministers in late 2019 with final discussions with ministers taking place earlier this year.

Scottish Nationalist party MP Neil Gray, who lodged an urgent question on the issue, said: “Ministers say that this delay is caused in part because people are scared to go on to universal credit. They say it like they are surprised.”

He added: “The great irony in all of this is if this Tory government would listen and do what expert charities and those in receipt of universal credit say, then these delays would not be needed.”

Margaret Greenwood, the shadow work and pensions secretary, told MPs the delay was “hugely embarrassing” for ministers: “The government has been forced to delay universal credit yet again because people do not have confidence in the system.”

Responding, Quince said the problems facing universal credit would be lessened “if the party opposite desisted with their scaremongering”.

About 2 million people are in receipt of universal credit, which bundles six working-age benefits into a single monthly payment. More than 6 million will be on the benefit by the time it is fully rolled out by the new completion date of September 2024.

Although ministers have promised income protection for claimants who find themselves worse off after moving to universal credit, this only applies to those who move under the managed transfer scheme starting later this year. The thousands who switch to universal credit from legacy benefits because of a change of personal circumstances – moving house, for example – do not qualify for protection.

Concerns about plunging public confidence in universal credit led the DWP to launch a £225,000 newspaper advertising campaign to “detoxify” universal credit last May. However, it was subsequently banned by the Advertising Standards Authority for being misleading.

A recent study of the impact of universal credit by the Resolution Foundation thinktank found that nationally, 46% of claimants would be worse off on universal credit and 39% better off, though this varied, with families in the most deprived areas more likely to lose out financially after moving on to the benefit.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 8, 2020 5:46 am

    The Department for Work and Pensions admitted that the delay until 2024 – which means universal credit will be at least seven years behind its original completion date – was caused in part by claimants being scared to sign up for the new benefit.

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