This article titled “Universal credit timetable slips again” was written by Patrick Wintour, for The Guardian on Wednesday 22nd October 2014 20.14 UTC
The increasingly vague timetable to put more than seven million benefit claimants on the government’s flagship universal credit has again slipped back, the Department of Work and Pensions confirmed on Wednesday.
But the DWP insisted it remained on course to secure substantial savings, and said early findings showed that universal credit, which integrates six current benefits, is increasing claimant job search and breaking down barriers to work.
The DWP claims that universal credit will boost the economy by £7bn a year and help 300,000 households find work. It said an analysis of 1,000 of the first universal credit claimants found that claimants spend 29 hours a week looking for work rather than 16 hours under the jobseeker’s allowance scheme.
The survey found that such claimants are working more and 65% believe that the new scheme provides a “better financial incentive” to work and is “easier to understand”.
But the scale of the IT setbacks was underscored when it was revealed that only 14,170 claimants – mainly single people or childless couples – are currently on the universal credit system.
In January 2015 this extends to couples with children in some areas before all new claims for single claimants, starting nationwide later that year. It is estimated 100,000 people will be on universal credit by May 2015 and 500,000 by May 2016.
THe DWP says that, by 2017, all new claimants, whether with children or not, will be put on to universal credit, but no date has been set for existing benefit claimants to be transferred. This means that from 2016 to well into 2018, it is likely Britain will have a two-tier welfare system with some people on universal credit and millions not. The DWP estimates there are 7.7m eligible claimants at present.
Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith said: “You have to have flexibility so we land this carefully – simply gathering everybody up and dumping them in at an arbitrary point does not work. Targets and arbitrary figures are one of the problems of programme rollouts that don’t allow you to achieve the change. I believe the more people understand universal credit, the more they’ll want it.”
He hoped everyone would be on the benefit by 2018, though he admitted some difficult groups might not be.
Duncan Smith has repeatedly broken his promises on universal credit, promising that a million people would be claiming it by April 2014.
Shadow welfare minister Chris Bryant said: “Today Iain Duncan Smith promised 100,000 people will be on universal credit by May 2015. But that’s only around 1% of the total number of people who are expected to claim the new benefit.
“£130m has already been wasted by ministers on universal credit and today’s announcement, confirming further delays to the government’s flagship welfare reform, is extremely worrying.”