Universal Credit began its phased introduction in 2013 with the aim of helping benefit claimants and their families become more independent, and to simplify the benefits system by bringing together a range of working age benefits into a single payment and replacing income based Jobseeker’s allowance.
I wholeheartedly supported this new way of supporting people of working age as the system it was replacing was too complex, clunky and it actually acted as a disincentive for those people who found themselves unemployed to return to work. This was because, if the employment was insecure or short term, once the old inflexible benefits had been given up they were difficult to re-access.
The result was people tended to remain on the benefits instead of taking the ‘risk’ of entering the jobs market. Universal credit was introduced as a system which was accessed by the recipients whether they were in work or out of work, and made the benefits system into a support package of benefits which is a platform to build from rather than a ceiling which creates a barrier that its recipients can’t escape from.
Another key advantage of Universal credit was the fact that benefits were withdrawn slowly as income from employment increased. This provided an incentive for claimants to work as this paid employment always resulted in the individual retaining more money than under the old system, where benefits were often reduced on a pound for pound basis by earnings. This fulfilled our election promise that ‘work should always pay’.
Despite a slow controlled roll out of Universal credit to iron out all the inevitable technical and administrative glitches, which inevitably given this was such a huge overhaul of a system which served millions of people, the new system was well received by the vast majority of recipients, it could have been labelled a Universal success.
Once introduced in my constituency of North West Leicestershire the rate of reduction of unemployment increased markedly as people moved into the full time, part time and the casual labour market depending on the opportunities available and their other commitments. The unemployment claimant count was reduced in North West Leicestershire to less than 2% prior to the economic shock caused by the Covid 19 pandemic.
In April 2021 6m people in the UK were accessing Universal credit, due to the Covid 19 pandemic this was a 98% increase on the number in March 2020. As in my constituency the huge increase in Universal Credit claimants came from the formerly working population. The Government announced a temporary £20 per week increase in the level of support starting in March 2020, this policy is set to end in September this year.
I have asked the Government to look again at the planned reduction in Universal Credit planned for September. The original scheme in 2013 lost some of it funding in 2015, compared to its original concept and the so called ‘taper’ of benefit reduction to earnings increase was sharper than its architect and introducer Rt Hon. Iain Duncan-Smith MP ( then Secretary of State for the Department of work and Pensions) wanted and envisaged.
It is clear to me that to work properly Universal Credit can’t be funded on the cheap. It’s an investment which ensures that as the economy picks up, people will move into paid employment as that employment becomes available.
The Universal Credit System has worked for my constituents and the country in the past and it will work again, but it has to be funded properly to do this. To remove £80 a month from our poorest households is morally and politically indefensible at this time.
I originally supported the huge reforms we have introduced to the benefits system because I believed that ultimately the reforms would benefit the lives of the recipients, likewise I oppose the planned reduction in support in September because I believe it will not. I see no inconsistency in these positions and I would remind the socialists that they don’t have a monopoly on social conscience. They don’t own social issues.