The roll-out of the controversial ‘Universal Credit’ reforms to three million claimants has been delayed by Amber Rudd following fears of a Tory rebellion and forceful criticism by the UN special rapporteur and charities.
Universal Credit rolls six benefits, including child and housing benefit, into one monthly benefit. It is intended to simplify the system and encourage work. After rolling out in 2013, just over one million currently claim Universal Credit. The three million claimants affected by the work and pension secretary’s announcement are those whose circumstances have not changed. This includes many of the most vulnerable claimants, those on DLA and ESA. MPs were originally due to vote later this month. Instead, Rudd has proposed a test scheme, which will transfer 10,000 of these claimants to the new system after which a report will be presented to parliament.
Rudd tweeted after the announcement: ‘UC is a vital reform so I want to roll it out carefully. I’m glad charities and colleagues are backing my plans to move and monitor 10,000 people from the old system.’
In November, Philip Alston, UN rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, released a damning report stating that the UK government had inflicted ‘great misery’ on its citizens and the UK was in breach of four UN human rights agreements relating to women, children, disabled people and economic and social rights. Alston wrote: ‘If you got a group of misogynists in a room and said how can we make this system work for men and not for women they would not have come up with too many ideas that are not already in place.’
These comments followed a two week investigation visiting deprived regions of the UK where he described ‘the immense growth in food banks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the government to appoint a minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard-of levels of loneliness and isolation’.
Charities, MPs and campaigners have echoed these concerns with the Labour Party calling for the entire program of Universal Credit to be halted and reviewed. The 5 week delay in receiving benefits that leaves many with no income is a feature that has been widely criticized.
While there has been general support for halt, the Law Centre NI highlighted that this delay will also continue to leave claimants migrating to UC voluntarily in the lurch, without financial support.