Universal Credit is an ‘attack on the poor’ claims campaigner as controversial benefit system reaches Northampton

Universal Credit is set to arrive in Northampton on Monday.
Universal Credit is set to arrive in Northampton on Monday.

Campaigners fear a controversial lump-sum benefits system being rolled out in Northampton on Monday will push the poorer even further towards poverty.

Universal Credit - the system whereby welfare claimants receive just one monthly payment which takes into a count all of their benefits - is finally coming to the county after first being announced in 2012.

Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Freud has called Universal Credit a “revolution in welfare” and the Department for Work and Pensions claimants people on it “spend more time looking for work and stay in jobs for longer compared to those on Jobseeker’s Allowance.”

But Bianca Todd, of the left-wing campaign group Left unity, believes many people in Northampton will struggle to budget under the new system.

“Money management is a very difficult thing in times of austerity,” she said.

“We are going to find a lot of people are struggling by the end of the month.

“It will be down to a claimant to make sure they pay people, who they haven’t paid directly for years, because a benefit, such as housing, used to take care of that.

“This is just another way of attacking the poor.”

By Christmas, the new benefit will be in three-quarters of all Jobcentres across the country, and recent figures show that over 141,000 people are now receiving it.

The measure was introduced by the previous Coalition government as part of the Welfare Reform Act, but has been dogged by a slow roll-out period and complaints.

Earlier this week a study by a number of Citizen’s Advice offices revealed many claimants struggled with a “built-in” delay to Universal Credit, which requires claimants to wait at least 42 days before receiving a benefit payment.

The study found more than 60 per cent of respondents had found it “very difficult” to pay for food, rent and to pay bills during this 42-day period.

A third waited even longer for their claim to be processed, with one in 10 waiting at least 63 days.

Citizen’s Advice claims this has left many claimants forced to borrow money and has said that those experiencing problems with their scheduled payments are finding it hard to see them rectified.

The report says: “Our advisers frequently found that there was no effective way of speaking to anyone who could resolve the problem quickly.”

It adds: “No one at the local Jobcentre understood what was happening or had any reliable way into the system to find out.”

However Minister for Welfare Reform, Lord Freud, said the new benefits system allows claimants “greater flexibility.”

He said: “Under Universal Credit we are helping to create a higher wage, lower tax, and lower welfare society, with people moving into jobs faster, and able to increase their earnings safe in the knowledge that they are better off in work.”

Universal Credit is designed to replace six existing types of benefit, including Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support and housing benefit, with one monthly payment, and for the first time combines in and out of work benefits.

The new system shifts focus away from the number of hours a person works to the amount they earn.

The DWP says with access to HMRC’s “real time earnings data,” benefit payments can now adjusted automatically to “eliminate overpayments.”

Once fully rolled out, Universal Credit, the DWP claims this will save taxpayers over £1 billion each year in reduced fraud, error and overpayments.