Newly-announced government funding to support universal credit claimants has come under fire from charities for failing to deal with “long-term issues” in the welfare system.
In her speech to the Conservative Party Conference on Monday, work and pensions secretary Esther McVey unveiled plans for a £39 million partnership with the charity, Citizens Advice, to provide “universal support” to make sure applicants get their first universal credit payments on time.
It comes after thousands of people were left waiting weeks for initial payments while universal credit – which combines six benefits into one – was being rolled out, with food banks across the country reporting spikes in visitors.
But while charities have welcomed the funding pledge, McVey has been criticised for failing to deal with other major issues in the government’s welfare system.
“It’s vital support is available to people as they move onto universal credit in the short-term,” said Katie Schmuecker, head of policy at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. “But we need to fix universal credit in the long-term.
“Cuts to universal credit mean it provides less help than it was originally designed to,” she continued, adding that the UK is facing a “rising tide of in-work poverty”.
Under the current system, the amount of universal credit claimants receive is dependent on their income, with every £1 they earn reducing their universal credit payments by 63p.
Meanwhile, research published over the summer found that some employed claimants have seen their benefits slashed by up to £258 a month because their pay days clash with built-in “assessment periods”.
But during her speech McVey applauded the Conservatives for creating a welfare system “fit for the 21st century”, arguing that universal credit is hated by the Labour Party because it “ensures that work always pays”.
The Cabinet minister went on to slam claims the Tories are cutting budgets as “fake news”, telling the audience: “We have never spent more on those with disabilities and long-term conditions. We spend over £50bn a year, up £9bn on 2010.”
But Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood insisted cuts to social security are “causing real harm” to those with disabilities, as well as unemployed people and low-income workers.
“Her [McVey’s] announcement on Universal Support came with no new money and no answers to the major flaws in Universal Credit,” Greenwood said, adding that five million children are expecting to be growing up in poverty by 2022.
“Her refusal to recognise the impact of her policies on some of the most vulnerable in our society is shameful.”