Gazette & Herald Column: New welfare system will provide a better safety net

Parliament is now back in full swing, and there is a lot to be getting on with as we continue to implement our ambitious domestic policy agenda whilst also negotiating Brexit. At PMQs this week the focus was on the rollout of Universal Credit, so I thought I would take the opportunity to clear up a few misconceptions that I have seen recently about this policy.

Welfare payments provide a vital safety net for the most vulnerable in society, and it is important to have a system in place that supports people when they need it most, and helps people move forward into employment so that they become able to support themselves and their families. Universal Credit is a more flexible and personalised system which brings together six different payments into one. By comparison, the old system was so overly complex it only made sense for people to work 16 hours a week, which meant that work didn’t pay and people had very little incentive to seek employment. Of course there are those who, for a variety of reasons, are unable to work, and need the safety net of the welfare state, but for many others, finding employment is the key to prosperity and happiness. So I am glad that the latest analysis showed that claimants receiving Universal Credit move into work quicker and in greater numbers than those on the existing Jobseeker’s Allowance.

The concerns about the new system have centred on problems some claimants have experienced with delays in receiving their first payment, and while there were issues earlier in the roll-out, the recent data is positive, showing over 80% of cases were paid in full at the end of their first assessment period, and the Government is working to bring that number to 100% as soon as possible. I have also been assured that there are measures in place to ensure that those who need support receive it, with advance payments paid within days and the option to fast track urgent payments so people receive it the same day. The rollout so far has been subject to extensive scrutiny and a full independent review, which concluded that it was safe to proceed. As it continues to be rolled out over the next 5 years, the Government will of course continue monitoring and making modifications wherever necessary, but I am confident that this new system, once fully in place, will provide a better welfare system for those who need it.