In a speech on Friday, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions announced important changes to current proposals for Universal Credit (UC). Amber Rudd announced that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will immediately lay two pieces of legislation:
· The first will provide protections for people currently receiving the ‘Severe Disability Premium’ -additional benefits paid to disabled people who live independently, recognising the extra costs faced by people not supported by a carer. It will come into force on January 16, 2019, according to the original timetable and means there will not be a vote on this.
· The second contains the provisions for the pilot of managed migration, which mean that once the pilot of 10,000 people has ended, the Government will have to once again seek approval from Parliament before they can move anyone else over to Universal Credit.
Responding to this, Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of mental health charity Mind said:“Today’s announcement gives the Government a chance to avert catastrophe when it comes to moving millions of people over to Universal Credit (UC) but still does not yet address fundamental problems. The Secretary of State clearly acknowledged that responsibility for getting this right rests with the Government, and not with individuals who have already been found eligible for benefits after going through a rigorous and bewildering assessment. We now need to see the Government’s actions match that promise. Starting with a pilot of 10,000 people doesn’t change the fact that these plans require people to make an entirely new claim and risk seeing their benefits stopped if they are too unwell to do so in time.
“The only safe and appropriate way to move people across to UC is to ensure nobody risks losing their income if they are unable to make a new claim within three months. Unless the DWP guarantee this, we fear too many people with mental health problems will see their benefits stop entirely, because they were too unwell to attend an appointment, read a letter or didn’t receive the right support to do what was asked of them and complete a new application.
“We hear every week from people with mental health problems who struggle with a system which isn’t designed to meet their needs. That includes people who have found it impossible to manage on a monthly payment because of the way their mental health affects them when they are unwell. It also includes people who are struggling to get by after having their benefits stopped due to a harsh sanctions regime.
“Some of the announcements this morning are welcome but there’s still much further to go until we have a benefits system which provides people with financial security and allows people to live full and independent lives.”