A Yorkshire MP has downplayed an overhaul of the controversial Universal Credit (UC) benefits system by saying that to look at evidence and correct any problems is “just good Government”.
Following widespread criticism of the extension of the flagship welfare reform, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd was due to scrap a Commons vote on plans allowing all existing claimants of relevant benefits to be moved onto the all-in-one payment.
Instead she plans to seek approval to move just 10,000 claimants on to UC to monitor the way the system works.
Prime Minister Theresa May defended the move, saying it was always the plan that the scheme would change as it was implemented, but Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Margaret Greenwood said that “hopefully the Government is waking up to the devastating implications” of migrating benefit claimants to UC.
Last year, The Yorkshire Post ran a week-long series on how Universal Credit was affecting communities across the region, which ended with the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, urging ministers to “think again” about the system and calling for “improved flexibility” towards people applying for and receiving the benefit. Critics have linked the policy, which has been mired in technical issues and payment delays, with poverty, rising food bank use and debt.
Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake, the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty, said during TYP series that people moving to Universal Credit and Jobcentre Plus staff, “all speak very, very highly of the policy”.
But following the overhaul revealed at the weekend, he yesterday said: “I think there is no doubt we should always take stock, should always look at the evidence and where things aren’t right, we should make them right. That’s just good Government.”
After Mrs May said the roll-out completion date of 2023 is still intended, Mr Hollinrake added: “I think we should take a pragmatic approach to this.
“It’s not about a target deadline, that’s not what’s important, what’s important is getting an income support system that’s fit for purpose.
“Whether that takes another year or two is immaterial.”
Allies of the Work and Pensions Secretary insisted the decision to overhaul the migration was not due to fear of a Tory revolt but because it was the right way to handle the change.
Ms Rudd took over from Esther McVey at the Department for Work and Pensions in November.
In June last year, the National Audit Office concluded in a report on UC that “the project is not value for money now, and that its future value for money is unproven”.
Ms Greenwood yesterday said: “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.”
Mrs May said: “Throughout the introduction of Universal Credit we’ve been clear that we would roll it out as a steady process, learn as we go along, make changes, we’ve done that.”