Should Philip Hammond put the Universal Credit roll-out on hold in the Budget?
The roll-out of Universal Credit has been utter chaos. Claimants have been going up to six weeks without payments.
During this time, many are unable to afford food and shelter for both themselves and their family. The Trussell Trust has already warned that we are due to see a dramatic increase in the use of foodbanks because of flaws in the system.
People with chronic disabilities are going without the support they desperately need while millions of low-income families are set to run up debts while they await their first Universal Credit payment. No child should go hungry because of a cruel design flaw in an ill-prepared welfare system.
Universal Credit simply isn’t fit for purpose. Cutting off support in no way simplifies a benefits system, nor does it incentivise people to work.
Philip Hammond must at least pause the roll-out in the Budget in two weeks, until issues with the Universal Credit system are solved.
Universal Credit will bring welcome simplification to the benefits system for claimants, with less paperwork and people to deal with. A large majority of current claimants say they are satisfied with the new system.
However, reforms are necessary to correct some of the existing flaws.
First, the initial seven-day wait for benefits should be reduced. It was only recently that claimants had to wait three days for out-of-work benefits, and extending it was a punitive cost-cutting exercise.
Second, monthly payments are based on the view that payments should mirror the way people in work are typically paid. However, a significant proportion of low earners are in fact paid weekly. Scotland and Northern Ireland have given claimants the option to receive payments more frequently. England should also do this.
At this turbulent time, it is crucial that the government gets one of its flagship reforms right. Done properly, Universal Credit has the potential to be successful.