Universal Credit ‘fundamentally the right thing to do’

2 Oct 17

Universal Credit is “fundamentally the right thing to do” but there are concerns about how it might impact living standards.

That was the view of the charity Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s head of policy Katie Schmuecker, speaking today at a Conservative conference fringe event discussing the future of welfare reform.

She echoed the comments of Theresa May speaking on the Andrew Marr show yesterday when she said “fundamentally most people agree Universal Credit is a good system”.

The prime minister said her party recognised “there have been problems with the way Universal Credit has been working out for people” but she said it was “important we do roll it out”.

The government was reviewing the “specific issues” with it, she said.

Schmuecker told the fringe session in Manchester today there were a number of warning signs on the horizon for living standards.

She listed rising inflation, tepid economic growth and stagnation in real-term earnings as some of the key issues facing people, especially those in receipt of state benefits.

“We are an organisation that has backed Universal Credit from the start,” she said.

Schmuecker added: “It is fundamentally the right thing to do, bringing in structural changes to the system making it easier for people in and out of work to claim things they are entitled to, these are really big important attributes of Universal Credit.”

But she highlighted concerns about the six-week wait that claimants wait for payments.

She added: “The freeze to working age benefits is eroding the income of people who are among the lowest income people in this country, who rely on benefits.”

Schmuecker said simply ending the freeze would be expensive for the Treasury but she urged the government to look again at how the benefits freeze affects particular groups like families with children and those claiming for housing.

David Gauke, secretary of state for work and pensions, also spoke at this fringe event.

Commenting on the amount of time claimants have to wait he said nobody should wait six weeks for money if they need it.

“Universal Credit doesn’t require that, for all the criticism it has received. [We have] got to make sure is that people are properly aware of what they are entitled to and how they go about claiming it,” he said.

“We want to provide a welfare system that helps people progress, fulfill their full potential," Gauke added. 

“That seems to me to be the key, that is what Universal Credit is all about.”

He said it was increasingly important to understand the needs of each claimant and support them in a tailored way. 

“I think new technology enables new opportunities for this [to give people individual support], [and] simply for departments to cooperate,” he told the conference.

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