Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has defended his flagship Universal Credit scheme saying evidence shows it is helping people find work quicker and earn more.
The changes in the system, which come into effect from today, are designed to make work pay for people who move off benefits and into low-paid work.
Iain Duncan Smith said the new benefit was £600m under budget.
Citing Government research, the minister said those receiving the benefit were 5 per cent more likely to find employment within four months than comparable Jobseekers Allowance claimants.
He insisted it had been better to delay the scheme rather than risk problems with it: “I would rather have this work.
“I would rather have it that everyone’s experience as we have seen already is positive, people are going into work quicker, they are staying in work longer, and they are earning more.”
BUT what exactly is it?
Universal credit combines six working-age benefits, into one single payment.
It includes Jobseeker’s Allowance, Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Employment and Support Allowance and Income Support.
It is currently available, as part of a pilot, in nearly 100 job centres but from today its phased roll-out will aim to offer it in all job centres in England, Scotland and Wales by 2016.
CEO of Family Matters Chris Muwanguzi said: “Universal Credit is a great principle and its effectiveness will depend on how well it is implemented, and how well the government provides support and guidance to families and individuals that access it.
“Our concern is the broad-brush approach that universal credit takes, those with more complex benefit claims may lose out, such as some people with disabilities who go to work.”
Labour said the scheme was massively behind schedule and saving far less than expected, describing the roll-out as a “spiralling waste and delays”.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves said: “The only person who believes Iain Duncan Smith’s promises on Universal Credit is Iain Duncan Smith.
“Iain Duncan Smith promised one million people would be claiming Universal Credit by April 2014. But the latest figures show only 26,940 people on the new benefit.
“At this rate it will take 1,571 years to roll out Universal Credit.”