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News From Westminster- David Warbuton MP

HENRY James Thoreau said that our lives are frittered away by details and we should “simplify, simplify, simplify.”  Putting aside the thought that he could have simplified the point by using just one “simplify”, it’s generally a good rule of thumb.

And so in that noble spirit, a few years ago the government hit upon the idea of simplifying the benefit system.  For many years, people getting any more than one benefit have had to wrestle with a pretty complex situation, so the notion was born of putting six benefits together.

Instead of navigating the choppy waters of Job Seekers Allowance, Employment Support Allowance, Income Support, Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit and Housing Benefit, people would sail gracefully through the lot, collecting one single monthly payment tailored just for them: Universal Credit.

The principle was widely praised.  It ought to have the potential to transform the lives of literally millions of people and – for those who have had no problems getting under way – it has indeed offered enormous advantages and help. But, there have also been some problems in the implementation.

Some delays in processing and payments for vulnerable people have meant that I don’t feel the system is quite ready for the full planned rollout.

While Universal Credit has certainly helped many people, too many have been left for too long without an income or interim payments.  And it isn’t acceptable for a system to fail to provide the very fall-back which is its whole intended purpose.

So last week I, along with a small number of other MPs, wrote to the government asking them to pause the rollout of the full service until these IT and other issues can be fully resolved. As most of us know, there are few things more troubling than serious financial problems, and those most vulnerable among us must be our first priority. I think it’s time to look closely at the details of the system now, no matter what Thoreau might think.

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