UK

Budget 2017's £1.5bn Universal Credit U-Turn Faces Backlash Over Christmas Timing

Six week wait reduced to five, but not in time for the holidays.

22/11/2017 13:28 GMT | Updated 22/11/2017 18:38 GMT
PA Wire/PA Images
Chancellor Philip Hammond announced a £1.5bn fund to 'address concerns' with Universal Credit  

Philip Hammond’s pledge to spend £1.5bn solving problems with the beleaguered Universal Credit reform risks leaving thousands destitute at Christmas, campaigners have warned.

The Chancellor told the Commons during his Budget 2017 speech that after pressure on both sides of the House, the current six-week wait for new claimants will be reduced to five weeks.

But claimants and advisors have told HuffPost UK the reduction won’t be implemented in time to help the thousands due to join the system in December.

And the official Budget Red Book states the changes will begin in January 2018, at the same time as a previously planned “pause” in the roll out.

As part of Wednesday’s announcement, Hammond said that advanced loans will be available much sooner and be repaid over 12 months, not the current six.

And new claimants in receipt of Housing Benefit will continue to receive that money for an extra two weeks after moving onto Universal Credit.

“This is a £1.5 billion package to address concerns about the delivery of the benefit,” Hammond said.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn criticised the reduction from six weeks to five weeks, suggesting it did not go far enough.

“I say to the Chancellor again, put this system on hold so it can be fixed and keep one million of our children out of poverty,” Corbyn added.

‘Laughable’

Worried benefits claimants have echoed Corbyn’s scepticism, with one describing the changes as “laughable”.

Jacqueline Sage, 51, from Brighton, west Sussex, said the announcement does little to reassure her ahead of a move to Universal Credit next month.

“This budget is laughable for those of us who have worked most of our lives and end up on benefits for whatever reason. Six to five weeks? As though that will significantly help anyone,” she told HuffPost. “Landlords will serve eviction notices. They already have started.”

HM Government
The official Budget Red Book states the changes to Universal Credit won't be effective until January at the earliest

In the past few months, commentators warned that as the roll-out of the policy gathers pace, the six-week wait is contributing to rising debt, rent arrears and evictions.

Millions more like Jacqueline are due to move onto Universal Credit, which replaces six different benefits, gradually by 2022.

Neil Bradbury of County Durham Citizen Advice told HuffPost: “These aspects were terrible and it’s really good they are changing.

“There are still plenty of issues that need sorting out and there are a lot of unanswered questions.

“We have job centres switching [to Universal Credit] on December 13th, so will [people] have money for Christmas?”

[Do you or someone you know receive Universal Credit? Do these changes help you? What do you make of today’s Budget announcement? Contact our reporter on George.Bowden@huffpost.com]

HuffPost UK
Universal Credit brings six benefits into one unified monthly payment

Susan Brown, Deputy Leader of Oxford City Council, told HuffPost that delays before Christmas could affect families in the city.

“It is a real worry in the run up to Christmas and it is a long time to wait for people with no money. When you think about families, we have major concerns,” she said. “Our food bank is preparing for increased demand.”

Rosie Ferguson, of single parent charity Gingerbread, said the changes represent “the tip of the iceberg”.

“Working families on low wages are facing huge losses under Universal Credit, with single parent families particularly badly hit,” she said. “Once again the Government has failed to address support for families who are ‘just about managing’.”

‘Welcome step’

Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Gillian Guy said the changes were “a very welcome step towards fixing the problems with Universal Credit”.

Matt Cardy via Getty Images
A reported increase in food bank use has been attributed to problems with Universal Credit

She added: “These changes should make a significant difference to the millions of people who will be claiming Universal Credit by the time it’s fully implemented. We’ll continue to keep a close eye on the roll-out of Universal Credit and make sure they do.

“The next step will be to make changes to work incentives, so that no one is left worse off under Universal Credit than they would be under previous benefits.”

Interim Chief Executive of the Trussell Trust food bank network, Mark Ward, said that the move showed “Government is listening”.

“This decision shows that Government is listening to and acting on the evidence from food banks that have been tirelessly supporting people waiting too long for their payments,” he added.

[Do you or someone you know receive Universal Credit? Do these changes help you? What do you make of today’s Budget announcement? Contact our reporter on George.Bowden@huffpost.com]

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