The next phase of the government's flagship welfare reform – Universal Credit – is starting its next phase of its national launch but far more slowly than intended.
Hammersmith and Fulham are the latest UK councils to start trials of Universal Credit. Eventually there will be 8 million households on the new scheme, however a larger roll-out was meant to be have started this month but the process suffered management and computer issues which has hindered its progress.
Six councils were supposed to sign up from October however only Hammersmith and Fulham are ready to launch today. It is thought that the other, Rugby, Inverness, Harrogate, Bath and Shotton, will join the scheme by spring next year, reports the BBC.
Welfare minister Lord Freud said that the “slow and careful” approach was not working well. He said: “This is a massive cultural transformation that the government had to get right. We introduced Universal Credit in a slow, safe and controlled way in Manchester and this careful approach is working. We will build on these successes”.
Ministers believe that the key advantage of the new credit is that the system is designed to ensure that moving into work always pays. This means that when an individual comes off benefits and into a job, or takes on more hours at work their income will go up also.
However this reform may be weakened if there are no jobs for people to move into or if extra hours are not available for them.
Hammersmith and Fulham are also trialling a system of intensive support for jobseekers alongside Universal Credit. This will see claimants having four face to face interviews with a “work coach” within the first two weeks of signing on for Universal Credit.
Chris Bryant MP, shadow minister for welfare reform, said the “flagship welfare reform is now in total chaos.
“Universal Credit was supposed to be rolled out nationally this month – but instead we are seeing a scaled down version trialled in just a handful of job centres. And the NAO says tens of millions has now been wasted – with hundreds of millions at risk of being written off.
“This is an issue we need government to get a grip on, but David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith have completely lost control. A One Nation Labour government will bring down the benefits bill by reforming social security to support more people into work.”