Welsh government calls for rethink on 'black hole' of universal credit
Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Central Government and also in Housing, Local Government, Universal Credit
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The Welsh government has branded universal credit a 'black hole' and called for Westminster to rethink the controversial new benefits system.
New welfare claimants in Shotton, Flintshire, will today become the first place in Wales where universal credit will be introduced for some new jobseekers.
But Welsh ministers are concerned by the continued lack of detail from the UK government about the new system, which it claims is hindering the ability to plan around new arrangements for benefits such as free NHS dental and optical treatment, school uniform allowance and free school meals.
In Wales, the receipt of various Welsh government benefits is currently linked to benefits that are set to be scrapped and replaced by universal credit.
Until full details are made available from the Department for Work and Pensions, Welsh ministers have put in place steps to make sure those who receive this Welsh government support, known as 'passported' benefits, continue to get help.
Communities and Tackling Poverty Minister Jeff Cuthbert said: "The Welsh government is not against the idea of responsible reform, in fact the opposite is true but we have made it clear from the beginning that we are concerned about the scale and speed of the change.
"It is increasingly evident that continued delays and uncertainly over the arrangements over the roll out of universal credit are an indirect acknowledgement from the UK government that we were absolutely right to be concerned.
"Universal credit risks becoming a black hole from which we cannot find out who is eligible for our Welsh government benefits. We still don't know how it will fully work and how in practice it will replace existing arrangements.
"I understand the UK government intended their new benefit to 'offset' some of the other welfare changes particularly by making work pay. It is a great shame then that the ministers in London have insisted on pushing ahead with some of the more punitive measures such as the spare 'bedroom tax', when it could be years before universal credit is fully introduced and any of those proposed benefits can be realised.
"The welfare changes are already hitting the most vulnerable; it is time the UK government makes sure that those facing this tough reality do not get hit further. Our concerns are not just about the support we provide, but how we as a society help those who have to turn to social security in times of need. It must provide the right safety net for those who need it the most."
The Welsh government says it is doing all it can within the financial constraints it is facing, to ensure that people have somewhere to turn for help in accessing the support to which they are entitled.
In recent months ministers have announced new funding to support the expansion of credit unions, to support advice services in the poorest communities and are expanding the 'Flying Start' programme to help families in the most disadvantaged areas.
Recent Welsh government figures found that the UK government cuts to welfare will mean that that working age adults in Wales will be hundreds of pounds a year worse off. The average annual loss per working age-adult in Wales is estimated to be £500.
The findings show Wales will see a total loss of income of around £930 million a year by 2015/16 as a result of Westminster's plans for social security. There will also be wider knock-on impacts on the economy as people have less to spend in their local communities.