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Government attacked over continued failure to define 'vulnerable' in Universal Credit plans

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Government attacked over continued failure to define 'vulnerable' in Universal Credit plans

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Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Universal Credit and also in Bill Payments, Central Government, Housing

Government attacked over continued failure to define 'vulnerable' in Universal Credit plans Government attacked over continued failure to define 'vulnerable' in Universal Credit plans

The Government today reiterated its commitment to supporting "vulnerable claimants" in its response to the Work and Pensions Select Committee report into Universal Credit.

But ministers have been criticised for their continued failure to provide a clear definition of what "vulnerable" actually means.

Responding to the committee’s report – which welcomed the principles of Universal Credit – ministers outlined how claimants with "complex needs" will be supported with the move to Universal Credit, and how they will be better off under the new benefit.

According to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), around 1.1 million claimants taking up 10 hours of work a week will keep more of their earnings than they do in the current system.

The Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Freud said: "We’ve always been clear that Universal Credit will be simple and easy for claimants to access and we will ensure that vulnerable people get the support they need to make a claim and budget their finances.

"Millions of people will be better off on the new benefit, and we are pleased the select committee supports the principles of Universal Credit and welcome the work they have done."

The Government's response outlines that:

  • Work is the best route out of poverty and those who can will be supported into work. Universal Credit will ensure that moving off benefits into work and increasing hours will pay.
  • Ministers see Universal Credit as an opportunity to tackle digital exclusion and equip claimants with IT skills to help them get jobs. The majority of claims will be made online. However, telephone and one-to-one support will be made available to those who can’t access their claims online.
  • No one will lose financially through the transition to Universal Credit where their circumstances remain the same.
  • To ease the transition into work and to encourage claimants to become work ready, Universal Credit will be paid monthly and housing costs will be paid direct to claimants.
  • Those who need it will receive budgeting help and for a minority where direct or monthly payments may not be appropriate, Jobcentre Plus advisers will have discretion to make alternative arrangements. Support will also be in place to protect the financial position of landlords.
  • The Department will continue to work with other departments and devolved administrations on how they operate passported benefits.

Dame Anne Begg MP, the Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee and Labour MP for Aberdeen South, expressed disappointment at the Government's response.

"Our report recognised that the new Universal Credit system is likely to be accessible to the majority of claimants but we expressed serious concerns about how more vulnerable people would cope with the changes," she said.

"We recommended that the Government looked very carefully at its plans for implementation of Universal Credit to ensure that vulnerable people receive the support they need.

“The Government response shows some movement in this direction and I welcome its stated intention to monitor closely various aspects of the policy. However, significant concerns remain.

"It is still not clear how many of the risks identified in our report are to be managed. These risks affect some of the most vulnerable people in society; it is vital they are dealt with effectively.

"I am particularly disappointed that the Government has declined to accept our recommendation that it should develop and publish a clear definition of vulnerable groups. A great deal of discretion will be given to DWP staff to make decisions about who needs extra support. This creates the risk of people not being identified before they have fallen into hardship and debt.

"It is clear from the Response that the Government is still working on quite a lot of the detailed arrangements for how the new benefit will work in practice, particularly for vulnerable claimants. Implementation of Universal Credit begins in April this year, in the Pathfinder areas, followed by national roll-out for new claims from October 2013.

"It is essential that claimants have certainty from the outset about how this benefit, which brings together many existing payments, including housing costs, will affect them.

"Our report made clear that we intend to scrutinise the detail of Universal Credit implementation at regular intervals. We will continue to monitor this policy area closely, including taking further oral evidence from the Government in the near future."

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