Universal Credit is bringing fundamental change to the welfare system, making sure it pays to work and helping people to move into and progress within work. Studies have shown Universal Credit claimants are more likely to move into work than claimants on Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA), and that they do so faster.
Key to the design of Universal Credit is the monthly assessment periods. Payments are made monthly in arrears to mirror the world of work, making the transition to working life easier and giving claimants more responsibility for managing their finances. Claimants will usually receive their payment seven days after each assessment period ends.
Many claimants may come to Universal Credit with final earnings to support them until their first payment, or may find work relatively quickly. For those individuals who think they may face difficulties before their first payment, an advance payment can be requested. Advance payments can help with managing the initial period before payments start, and are treated as a loan, with repayments automatically deducted from future Universal Credit payments. Around half of all new claimants to Universal Credit receive an advance.
New claimants also have the opportunity to discuss any concerns about how they will manage their finances with their work coach at the start of their claim through Personal Budgeting Support. Money advice can be offered online, by phone, or face to face, and claimants can be signposted to appropriate third party services. Alternative Payment Arrangements can also be put in place in some circumstances, to allow payments to be made more regularly, to split payments between partners, or to pay the housing element of Universal Credit directly to the landlord.
Tens of billions of pounds every year are spent paying benefits to millions of people across the UK who are unemployed, on a low income, or in need of support. Work is always being done to minimise delays, around 90 per cent of out-of-work benefit payments are currently being processed on time. The introduction of the new Universal Credit will simplify and improve the system, reducing the capacity for errors or delays, while also ensuring that people will always be better off if they move into work or take on more hours. Work is the best route out of poverty, and I welcome the fact that the number of households where no one works has reached a new record low, and the employment rate is at a record high.
Jobcentre managers have local discretion to work with food banks in their community, including by sending jobcentre staff to food banks to help with benefit payment issues and employment support if they deem this appropriate.
However the system is not perfect and there are problem, which are very concerning since any problems in the system are likely to cause real hardship for those in receipt of Universal Credit, as they are often some of the most vulnerable people in society. You make the point well that some are really suffering and we need to help them as best we can. We can do that by tweaking and improving the system as we go, for example the Government recently cancelled all charges for calls relating to Universal Credit, in order to ensure the fundamentally good principle of Universal Credit is carried out in the most compassionate way. Any move to halt the roll-out of Universal Credit at this time could cause a great deal more hardship and would mean more people relying on various different benefits and facing big losses in benefits if they started to earn more than otherwise would be happening. We should all work together to ensure that this system works and the Government is, I am sure, willing to listen to case studies and make help available where necessary, but attempts, in part fuelled by party politics, to stop Universal Credit, despite how it is making a positive difference to people's lives, is wrong.