Keep Universal Credit?
By Jim Scott
The product of a coalition government and welfare reform, Universal Credit was launched last year across most of the country. Its aim was to simplify the benefits system and to allow those coming back to employment, the chance to earn money whilst gradually weaning themselves from benefit payments. But as the system presents a number of trial and errors, should the government stick with Universal Credit?
The government has come under mounting pressure from the opposition to scrap Universal Credit, which has so far cost the UK taxpayer £2.2 billion. John McDonnell said over the weekend Universal Credit would "have to go" as the Labour Party pledged to review the benefits system rolled-out under the current Conservative government.
Universal Credit rolls six major benefits into one single monthly payment. The payment is designed to mimic a real-life wage, based on the average employer which pays its staff monthly. But The National Audit Office indicated the billion-pound system could end up costing more than the current system.
Meanwhile government said Universal Credit would bring £34 billion back into the economy over a 10-year stint. But as the Independent reports, the benefit now costs £699 per claim, four times the amount it said it would cost.
It has since been claimed, Universal Credit could “destabilise” Theresa May in the same way it did to former Prime Minister David Cameron, the New Statesman reports. It said that whilst Cameron announced cuts to working tax credits during his lead, cuts which Theresa May announced seem brazen despite her promise to eradicate austerity during Birmingham’s Conservative Conference last week.
Universal Credit has not been the government’s best advert. Initially, benefit claimants were waiting up to six weeks before they received their first pay. This meant the use of foodbanks had risen as a direct result over the transitional period in the places where it was being rolled-out. Over summer, The Guardian said Number 10’s attitude towards benefits put "welfare savings" before "human beings".
The Sun reports, Conservative ministers had prior knowledge that families may be up to £200 worse off a month, It said Labour MP Frank Field said cuts to benefits were "planned".
But the benefit has not proved a total failure. The Northern Echo reports initial projections that its roll out in Darlington in County Durham would "spell disaster" but proved unfounded in a recent housing scrutiny committee meeting which it claimed residents from the surrounding area said they had been "surprised" by its success.
Talking about the roll-out in the area, Darlington Borough Council’s, Anthony Sandys said: "We haven’t seen anyone coming through our housing options scheme saying they’ve been having trouble getting privately rented accommodation or being evicted for rent areas due to Universal Credit.
"Everyone will have their own opinions about Universal Credit, but in terms of how we have implemented it here in Darlington it’s been a real success."
Yet Universal Credit may still meet its end if a Labour government gets into Downing Street. John McDonnell confirmed rumours that Labour was considering a total axe to Universal Credit if the conservatives were defeated by the next election.