The Government is coming under pressure to halt the roll-out of Universal Credit, the new benefit which is replacing six existing ones: Jobseekers' Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and Income Support.
Created by the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government as part of the Welfare Reform Act in 2012, Universal Credit was launched in 2013 as a pilot in a single area, the former textile town of Ashton-under-Lyne just to the east of Manchester, and has since been extended across the country, with full implementation for new claimants due to be complete by the end of 2018 (existing claimants receiving benefits being replaced by it are due to be transferred onto Universal Credit between the end of this year and 2021).
As well as delays caused by IT issues, Universal Credit has led to problems caused by the structure of the benefit itself.
The brainchild of former Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, Universal Credit is intended to mimic the payment of wages, and so is paid four-weekly, rather than weekly or fortnightly as most benefits were before, with an initial six-week waiting period and, in the case of housing costs, directly to claimants rather than to landlords as has been standard until now, leading to a spike in referrals to food banks in areas where it's been introduced and a build-up of rent arrears, and ultimately evictions, for tenants in both social housing and privately rented accommodation.
Self-employed people with small earnings, who until now have received Working Tax Credit, are also being adversely affected by the extension of Universal Credit to them with the introduction of a so-called minimum income floor, which requires them to earn the equivalent of the National Minimum Wage every month, and the applying to them of the cap on savings which is already part of other means-tested benefits, currently £16,000, after which benefits are nilled.
The implementation of Universal Credit, if not all the principles underlying it, has been criticised by a wide spectrum of voluntary organisation and charities, groups representing claimants, PCS, the trade union of the civil servants responsible for implementing it in jobcentres, Labour's Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams, and even some Tory backbenchers.
With the Government having already made a series of U-turns on controversial policies such as the so-called "dementia tax" since losing the General Election in June, and with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionists on whom they depend for a Parliamentary majority threatening to abstain in an upcoming House of Commons vote on the issue, it seems that a pause at least in the roll-out of this continuing attack on some of the poorest people in Britain is now a real possibility.