‘Progress’ being made on welfare reforms

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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.”