Universal Credit

From my Column in the Stirling Observer: 


Work is now central to the benefit system. Conservatives have been at the forefront of ensuring people can get and hold onto a job and there are more people in work today than at any point since records began. The ability to get a job and  learn new skills are, especially in today’s rapidly evolving economy, fundamental requirements for the individual. Working allows people to provide for themselves, for their families and it can create a social network that promotes wellbeing and tackles isolation far better than any number of fancy strategies.

A benefits system must promote and encourage people into work. That is exactly what the new Universal Credit does. At its heart is the principal that work must always pay. The old system just stopped paying any money when you earned one penny over the set limit. It was a flawed approach that had to be changed. Universal Credit is also designed to be fairer to the taxpayer. Welfare payments remain the largest single part of the national budget accounting for 31p in every £1 we pay in tax. Much of this money rightly goes on pension payments and ensuring a quality of life for those who cannot, through no fault of their own, work. However there was no incentive under the discredited old system for those that could work to get out and find a job. Many people were left trapped in a hopeless cycle of dependence because it was thought too difficult to tackle the embedded old system.  

Those who attack Universal Credit are effectively saying that it is OK to leave generations of people on benefits and for the taxpayer to foot the bill. It has become fashionable to knock Universal Credit and pretend that those who think that people should work to earn money to support themselves and their families are somehow uncaring. This is a simplistic, grievance fuelled narrative that perversely undermines people’s ability to engage with the support and help available. It is condescending and far crueller to write an entire section of society off as hopeless cases and leave them parked on welfare.

Now people are expected to find work and supported to do so. For many this is a simple process, they pass through the system and get a job fairly quickly while receiving a few weeks or months of the financial support they are entitled to. Others need more intensive help and support. Whether it is retraining in new skills or something more fundamental such as building confidence or tackling mental health issues. I am always impressed by how well the Job Centre staff helps people, often giving them back their self-respect and dignity. They have a vast range of courses and support available under Universal Credit, a resource that was not there previously.

No system is perfect and with such a fundamental change that is hardly surprising, it must continually adapt and improve. When people are struggling with the system they  can get brilliant support from a number of organisations and my office will always help people as much as possible. We must never underestimate the positive impact on the individual, the family and our society of more and more People freed from the trap of intergenerational unemployment, often earning a wage for the first time, getting a job. Despite the fear that is promoted by its cynical opponents, Universal Credit is a far fairer, far better and far more positive system than what it has replaced.