Full roll-out of the Government’s controversial Universal Credit scheme has been delayed again and is now not expected to be completed until September 2024, it has been reported today (Monday).
According to the BBC, ministers have delayed roll-out of the new benefit system because too many peope are “scared” to move to it. The delay adds an extra £500 million to its spiralling cost.
Universal Credit rolls six social security benefits, including tax credits and housing benefit, into one single monthly payment.
A built-in minimum five-week-wait for an initial payment has been blamed for rising homelessness and food bank use, and charities say problems in the design of the new benefit are pushing vulnerable people into the arms of loan sharks.
Advances of up to 100% of a person’s predicted monthly payment are available for those struggling to get by during the initial wait. However, this has to be gradually repaid through monthly deductions to payments and charities argue that this traps people in a cycle of debt.
Just last week, the DWP were slammed for clawing back £50 million in loans from Universal Credit claimants in only a month.
Commenting, Chris Stephens, SNP MP for Glasgow South West, said: “This is an incredible sum. The figures lay bare that the five-week policy simply isn’t working – it just drives people further into poverty.
“The DWP is removing £50 million from people each month to pay for its own ridiculous policy of making them wait weeks and weeks for Universal Credit payments.
“Unless the DWP moves to a policy where benefits are paid promptly the queues for food banks in Glasgow, and across the country, will continue growing.
“In Scotland, we are taking a different approach and building a social security system based on fairness, dignity and respect – it’s about time the Tories followed suit.”
Universal Credit has also been found to discriminate against people with disabilities. The Court of Appeal recently dismissed a Government appeal against two previous court judgments which found that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions had unlawfully discriminated against thousands of severely disabled people who moved onto Universal Credit.
The BBC reports that full roll-out of Universal Credit will now not be completed until September 2024, seven years later than the original target of 2017.
Neil Couling, Universal Credit Director General, was filmed telling a Whitehall meeting: “We’ve got a lot of anecdotal evidence of people being scared to come to universal credit.
“It’s a potentially serious issue for us, in terms of completing the project by December 2023, but I’m urging people not to panic.”
He later decided to delay the roll-out, admitting: “Three, six or nine months, it doesn’t matter – the headline will be: ‘Delay, disaster’.
“I would say, ‘Go safe, put the claimants first, and I’ll take the beating.'”
However, Couling still believes that Universal Credit “will form the bedrock of social security for the next 30 years”, adding: “Right now there’s no way I can put the brakes on and stop.”
Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Margaret Greenwood, described the latest delay as “hugely embarrassing” for the Government and called for Universal Credit to be scrapped.
“Universal Credit was supposed to be its (the Government’s) flagship social security programme”, said Greenwood.
“Instead we now find that it is being forced to delay the full rollout because the public have so very little faith in it and many are actually afraid of it.”