A couple of recent announcements suggest that planning Universal Credit has been subject to a “rethink“. The actual changes amount to something less than that. There is a delay in the rollout, which will affect those people currently being transferred from existing legacy benefits. The largest group of people affected by the decision are those who are currently on Employment and Support Allowance, because that is the largest group of people of working age who receive benefits for longer periods. Most people who were unemployed and in receipt of JSA have already been transferred, and anyone who signs off benefits and then needs to make a claim will have to claim through the Universal Credit. Amber Rudd has said that even with the ‘pause’, the numbers of people receiving Universal Credit is expected to grow to three million in the normal course of events – more than double the existing figure.
The other major change has been the revision to the two-child policy, which limits support to the first two children. That does not mean that two children will get fed when the third doesn’t; it means that every child in a larger family gets less support, and that is why the policy is exepcted to have such a large effect on child poverty. The change is confined to children born before April 2017, which is why it will only benefit 15,000 families.
The treatment of Universal ‘Credit in the press has become increasingly critical, but I’m not sure that most have yet appreciated just how deep the hole is. It doesn’t help that benefits are paid monthly, that it expects people to be online, or that strict and lengthy penalties are being applied for non-compliance, and the idea that people with no other income can have their benefits stopped for 5 weeks or more is simply outrageous. Any of those could be stopped in short order. That would still leave us with all the other problems with the scheme. MPs are well aware of those problems – their constituency surgeries are inundated with them. The government is trying to offer enough tweaks to defuse the discontent. It will take more than a few tweaks.