George Osborne has refused to categorically rule out rolling child benefit into Universal Credit (UC) to help contribute towards Conservative plans to save £12 billion from the welfare budget.
The Chancellor was asked repeatedly to rule it out and did not, but said that if the Tories had wanted to include child benefit in the new welfare system, they would have done so when it was created.
The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has said that scrapping child benefit and increasing UC for eligible families could save £4.8 billion a year.
But such a measure would mean that 4.3 million families who receive child benefit at the moment but would not be entitled to UC in the future would lose more than £1,000 a year, the IFS said.
At a Westminster briefing, Mr Osborne was asked to rule out rolling child benefit into UC.
The Chancellor replied:
“If you judge us on our approach in this parliament and if we wanted to put child benefit into Universal Credit, we would have done it when we set up Universal Credit.
“We have got a track record, we have got a plan that’s based on clear principles about making work pay and sharpening work incentives…”
Asked again to rule it out, Mr Osborne replied:
“I’ve just given you an answer. If we wanted to do it we would have done it when we created Universal Credit.”
Asked again, Mr Osborne said:
“I’ve given a very clear answer and you have to be a contortionist to think I’m not giving a pretty clear answer to that.”
The Conservatives’ plans for the next parliament involve saving £30 billion to contribute to deficit reduction, with £12 billion set to be cut from the welfare budget.
But the party has faced criticism from the IFS and Labour for failing to set out how it would achieve the majority – around £10 billion – of those welfare cuts.
The Chancellor said:
“If you look at our track record, the £21 billion we’ve saved in this parliament, you can look at principles we will apply to future such savings.
“We want to go on creating a welfare system which rewards work and the aspirations of families and protect the most vulnerable.”
Universal Credit is the coalition Government’s flagship welfare reform and simplifies the system by rolling a string of benefits and tax credits into one payment.
It is being rolled out in stages after being hit by delays and IT problems but will eventually take in jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, income support, child tax credit, working tax credit and housing benefit.
Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Chris Leslie said Mr Osborne had put middle income families in the firing line.
The Labour frontbencher said:
“The Tories won’t admit where their £12 billion of welfare cuts will come from, but after this press conference it’s now clear middle income families are in the firing line.
“George Osborne repeatedly refused to rule out rolling child benefit into universal credit. This would mean 4.3 million families losing over £1,000 a year, according to the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies.”
Treasury Minister Priti Patel said rolling child benefit into UC was not Conservative policy.
She told BBC News:
“We’re very clear as well, we have made it clear and we’ve said that we need to find £12 billion of welfare savings but it’s not our policy, that suggestion, and that there are other ways in which we can find those savings.”
But Ms Patel would not be drawn on whether the Tories will pay child benefit only for the first two or three children.
Asked if it was a possibility, she said:
“I’m not going to come here and start talking the ins and outs of the spending review because that will all be for the next government.”
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said he was not surprised by Mr Osborne’s failure to rule out the move as he insisted the change would not feature in his own party’s manifesto.
Speaking in Newtown, Mid Wales, he said:
“It’s no surprise to me that the Conservatives are considering pretty dramatic changes like taking child benefit away from lots of families because they have committed to taking £12 billion away from some of the most vulnerable families in this country.
> And we’ve been helping them for the last five years…
“They have committed to taking the equivalent of £1,500 away from eight million of the poorest families in this country to balance the books; they are not asking the very wealthy, those with the broadest shoulders, to make a single contribution through the tax system in balancing the books.
“Even if they did what is now being floated by George Osborne, they would still have £8 billion or £9 billion to fund. Who are they going to affect next, those with disabilities?
“Which other vulnerable groups will be affected by this unfair plan from the Conservatives?”
Asked whether the Lib Dems would rule out the move, Mr Clegg said:
“Child benefit rolled into the Universal Credit will not be in our manifesto because we are not planning the very, very extensive reductions in support given to the most vulnerable in our society that the Conservatives are.”
> But if anyone’s interested we’ll sell our souls again. Cheaply.
Pressed on whether it would be a measure he would block in coalition as a red line issue, Mr Clegg said:
“There’s no way the Liberal Democrats would ever endorse, of course not, in government or in opposition an approach which takes £1,500 away from eight million of the most vulnerable families in Britain.”
Source – Northern Echo, o7 Apr 2015
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has discretely released dismal Universal Credit statistics on the same day as the latest unemployment figures are announced.
The figures reveal that there were just 31,030 people on Universal Credit by 8th January 2015.
This represents an increase of 17 per cent on the caseload compared to December 2014, but is still far short of the 1million (plus) originally promised by the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith MP.
The Jobcentre Plus office with the largest caseload was Oldham with 2,640 Universal Credit claimants, followed by Wigan with 1,930.
Of the people on the caseload in January 2015, 32 per cent were in employment and 68 per cent were not in employment.
47 per cent of the Universal Credit caseload in January 2015 has been on the new benefit for less than three months, this compares to 52 per cent in December 2014, 55 per cent in November 2014 and 60 per cent in October 2014.
There are more males on the Universal Credit caseload than females (70 per cent compared to 30 per cent).
Males aged 20-24 make up 24 per cent of the total Universal Credit caseload.
Universal Credit is replacing the following benefits:
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- Income Support
- Working Tax Credit
- Child Tax Credit
- Housing Benefit
63,690 people have made a claim for Universal Credit up to 12th February 2015. The rate at which people are claiming continues to increase as the roll out of Universal Credit continues.
35,620 of the people who have made a claim have, up to 8th January 2015, attended an initial interview, accepted their claimant commitment, and gone on to start Universal Credit.
31,030 people were on the Universal Credit caseload, as at 8th January 2015. Of these, 10,080 (or 32 per cent) were in employment and 20,950 (or 68 per cent) were not in employment.
UK Labour Market, February 2015
- Comparing the estimates for October to December 2014 with those for July to September 2014, employment continued to rise and unemployment continued to fall. These changes maintain the general direction of movement since late 2011/early 2012.
- There were 30.90 million people in work. This was 103,000 more than for July to September 2014 and 608,000 more than for a year earlier.
- The proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 in work (the employment rate), was 73.2%, higher than for July to September 2014 (73.0%) and for a year earlier (72.0%). The employment rate last reached 73.2% in December 2004 to February 2005 and, since comparable records began in 1971, it has never been higher.
- There were 1.86 million unemployed people. This was 97,000 fewer than for July to September 2014 and 486,000 fewer than for a year earlier.
- The unemployment rate was 5.7%, lower than for July to September 2014 (6.0%) and lower than for a year earlier (7.2%). The unemployment rate is the proportion of the economically active population (those in work plus those seeking and available to work) who were unemployed.
- There were 9.05 million people aged from 16 to 64 who were out of work and not seeking or available to work (known as economically inactive). This was 22,000 more than for July to September 2014 and 6,000 more than for a year earlier.
- The proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 who were economically inactive (the inactivity rate) was 22.3%, virtually unchanged compared with July to September 2014 and with a year earlier.
- Comparing October to December 2014 with a year earlier, pay for employees in Great Britain increased by 2.1% including bonuses and by 1.7% excluding bonuses.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 18 Feb 2015
Part-time workers claiming Universal Credit face punitive in-work benefit sanctions, it has been reported today.
Universal Credit claimants in part-time employment could see their Housing Benefit slashed, if they fail to increase their working hours to 35 hours per week on the minimum wage, reports Inside Housing.
The trial, quietly introduced through secondary legislation, will affect around 15,000 new Universal credit claimants earning less than £12,000 a year.
Sanctions currently only affect unemployed people in receipt of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
If the trial is rolled out across the country, thousands of hard-working people could see their in-work benefits docked for the very first time.
> From one point of view this could be a good thing – because it will bring home to people who previously didn’t give a damn about, or even supported, benefit sanctions for the unemployed, just what is going on.
Universal Credit merges a number of existing benefits into one single monthly payment. This includes Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Income Support, JSA and ESA.
However, the Government’s flagship project has been beset by delays and problems with its IT systems. Official figures show 26,940 people were claiming Universal Credit by 11 December 2014.
The DWP is speeding up the roll-out of Universal Credit across Britain, in an apparent bid to prevent Labour from calling a halt to its introduction if they win the next general election.
> Labour could – and should – still scrap it if they win… but will they ?
Under the new mandatory pilot, which launches in April 2015, in-work Universal Credit claimants face the prospect of weekly sanctions – starting at around £29 per person.
Those affected by the trial will be offered ‘support’ from Jobcentre Plus to increase their pay and working hours. Failure to comply could result in sanctions.
> So just how do you increase your hours (unless you’re the boss) ? And its not much incentive to take a job like that if you know you’ll still be at the mercy of Jobcentre work coaches.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 11 Feb 2015
Government benefit cuts are pushing pregnant women and new parents into worsening poverty, says a damning new report.
The report – Valuing families? – from the charity Maternity Action, who provide free advice to parents about welfare benefits and healthcare, found that government welfare cuts are “exacerbating the high rate of poverty among new families”.
Since coming to office in 2010, the Tory-led coalition government has made a number of cuts to benefits and payments available to pregnant women and children. This includes freezing and means-testing Child Benefit; removing the baby element, and capping the annual up-rating of Statutory Maternity (and Paternity) Pay and Maternity Allowance.
The government has also reduced the income cut-off for the family element of Child Tax Credit, removed Sure Start Maternity Grants for all but a family’s first child and abolished both the Child Trust Fund and Health in Pregnancy Grant.
Maternity Action says cuts to welfare benefits and other payments available to families, including for working parents, are “contributing to the growth in personal debt” at a time when the cost of living has increased significantly.
Financial stress can lead to poor mental health among parents and this is linked to potential behavioural difficulties in children, says Maternity Action. The report says “women affected by poverty are less likely to have good nutrition during pregnancy, which contributes to the high rates of low birth weight in the UK”.
The report draws attention to the 2010 Marmot Review, which recommended early intervention to support families on both low and middle-incomes experiencing poor health, as a result of a squeeze on incomes.
Cuts in maternity benefits are pushing women to return to work after maternity sooner than they would like, while the take-up of paternity leave among fathers is affected by family incomes, reducing the likelihood of shared parenting. Maternity Action say this “entrenches the division of caring responsibilities and halts progress in reducing the gender pay gap”.
The charity says reducing maternity benefits is “at odds with evidence-based strategies to address health inequalities”, adding “poverty and poor health are inextricably linked and children born to parents living in poverty are more likely to present with developmental and social problems later in life”.
The report said as many as 60,000 women are forced to leave their jobs every year, because of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. The introduction of employment tribunal fees means that some women face a £1,200 barrier to justice.
More than 600 Sure Start services have closed their doors since Prime Minister David Cameron and his government took office in 2010, reducing the number of available sources of advice and support for new parents.
Maternity Action has called on the government to increase maternity benefits and treat Maternity Allowance as ‘earnings from employment’, within the new Universal Credit system.
The charity is also calling on the government to increase the National Minimum Wage and:
- Assist low to medium income families with the costs of each new baby, by reinstating the Sure Start Maternity Grant for second and subsequent children.
- Provide support for low-income women during pregnancy to ensure a healthy diet, by increasing Healthy Start payments by 14.5% (the increase in the cost of food and non-alcoholic beverages since the benefit was last up-rated in 2010).
- Review access to maternity benefits for pregnant women and new mothers who do not have indefinite leave to remain and for EEA nationals, with the aim of reducing poverty amongst migrant families residing in the UK. This should take into account the impact of extending from two years to five years the period of residency in the UK required for migrants with spouse/partner/fiancé(e) visas to apply for indefinite leave to remain, and restrictions on access to benefits by EEA nationals.
- Take immediate steps to reduce the high rate of pregnancy discrimination to enable pregnant women and new parents to retain their jobs and have the confidence to exercise their maternity and parental rights at work.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 14 Nov 2014
HMRC are to stop paying Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit to people claiming to the new Universal Credit, it has been revealed.
Previously, when people were moved to Universal Credit their tax credits accounts with the HMRC would remain open until the end of the tax year.
Tax credit payments will now form part of a households total Universal Credit award. Those who have not yet been moved (claiming) Universal Credit will continue to have their tax credits paid by the HMRC.
The changes, revealed in October’s issue of the DWP’s Touchbase magazine, come into force from this month (October) and will affect all existing and new Universal Credit claimants.
From this month, the HMRC will begin contacting affected claimants to inform them that their tax credit payments will stop, and give details on what they need to do.
The DWP say that claimants who are already getting tax credits do not need to contact the HMRC, while they wait for the changes to affect them. But they must report any changes in their circumstances as soon as possible, to ensure they receive the correct amount within the Universal Credit system.
People will be moved to Universal Credit ‘at different times’ depending on where they live, their circumstances and what benefits they are currently claiming. Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith recently announced plans to accelerate the roll-out of Universal Credit across the UK.
Tax credits will eventually be scrapped to form part of Universal Credit, as will a number of existing benefits including Housing Benefit and Income Support.
The HMRC is also changing the way it recovers overpaid tax credits. People who have been overpaid tax credit, largely due to HMRC blunders or accidental claimant error, may have their tax credit award reduced to repay outstanding debts. Depending upon a person’s circumstances this may include one or more previous claims.
Those affected will receive letters from the HMRC informing them of the overpayments. The amount deducted from their tax credit award could be as much as 25%. Those who have already made an arrangement to repay with the HMRC will not be affected.
Touchbase also reveals that Atos and Capita have employed more staff to increase the number of assessments they do for the new disability benefit, Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
The reports used by assessors have also been improved, claim the DWP, and changes have been made to the PIP IT system. DWP say that PIP decision-makers have doubled their output since April 2014.
They also claim that disabled people will not have to wait more than 16 weeks for a PIP assessment by the end of 2014.
The news comes after charities and politicians raised concerns over a growing PIP assessment backlog.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 13 Oct 2014