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Crucial Universal Credit vote delayed amid poverty concerns

A crucial vote in Parliament on the continued rollout of the Government’s flagship Universal Credit scheme has been delayed, amid rising concerns that the new benefit is driving people into poverty.

PM Theresa May told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show that the rollout would still be completed by 2023, but that the Government will only be seeking MPs permission to transfer 10,000 existing benefit claimants to the new system as part of a trial.

MPs were due to vote on moving an around 3 million existing claimants to Universal Credit in a matter of weeks, but fears that several Tory MPs were prepared to vote down the proposal means the crucial vote has been pushed into the long grass.

The possibility of a delay was first reported by the Observer on Sunday, who reported that the change of heart “comes after a stream of concerns from charities, MPs and campaigners about the impact universal credit has had on claimants new to the benefits system.”

A near empty food cupboard. Photo: Oxfam.

A Whitehall source told the Observer that Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd “has come into the Department and taken a no-holds-barred approach to reform”.

“Therefore she wants Universal Credit to receive a fresh Parliamentary mandate and being personally sure the system is working in the interests of every claimant.

“So she will move 10,000 claimants, and carefully monitor this, before returning to Parliament to report on her findings and seek that fresh mandate for the full roll-out.”

Responding to the announcement, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Margaret Greenwood said: “Hopefully the Government is waking up to the devastating implications of its so-called ‘managed migration’ to Universal Credit.

“However, Universal Credit is deeply flawed and many people are due to move onto it outside of managed migration.

“The policy is simply not working: it is pushing many families into poverty, rent arrears and to food banks.

“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.”

A Trussell Trust foodbank. Photo credit: Newfrontiers via photopin cc

SNP Work and Pensions spokesperson Neil Gray MP added: “Any pause to the botched roll-out of Universal Credit is welcome, but it shouldn’t have taken this long for the Tories to listen to the SNP and the huge number of anti-poverty charities who have condemned the system.

“The roll-out of Universal Credit to areas across Scotland has already seen more people pushed into poverty, debt and destitution – forcing families to rely on food banks and emergency aid just to get by.

“Now that the penny appears to have finally dropped, the Tories must now take this opportunity to overhaul the system and fix the problems that have caused so much misery in Scotland and across the UK.

“The United Nations by Philip Alston confirmed that poverty is this Tory government’s political choice – the Secretary of State’s head in the sand approach to this criticism is itself a shocking indictment of this government’s attitude.

“Any movement to mitigate the worst of the problems that the botched rollout of Universal Credit has caused is welcome, but fundamental reform is urgently needed for those who have already been affected.”

Amber Rudd recently admitted that Universal Credit has been at least partly responsible for driving record numbers of people to foodbanks.

Work and Pensions Secretary, Amber Rudd MP. Photo: Chris McAndrew [CC BY 3.0]

“I recognise that there have been problems as it [Universal Credit] has been taken forward”, she admitted during a visit to a Jobcentre in Staffordshire.

She continued: “First of all, the vast majority of people, around 84 per cent, get the money they are expecting on time. I want to continue the improvement on that. It wasn’t like that when it first started.

“I’ve been told that in this office, there were three people on the Friday before Christmas who were able to get advanced payments on their application that day.

“It was those elements, of getting the money into people’s hands earlier which were critical to stop the growth in foodbanks.

“I regret the growth there has been in food banks and I hope that these changes will stop that.”

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