WIGAN’S contribution to the roll-out of the Government’s flagship welfare reform scheme has been essential, according to minister Lord Freud.
The borough was part of a pilot area for Universal Credit (UC) in 2013 with the new system now being rolled out to more areas across the North West.
Minister for welfare reform Lord Freud, who visited the borough before the introduction of the pilot, said the “ground-breaking” reform was hitting targets, having been introduced in a “careful and controlled way”.
But Labour ministers have this week announced that UC would be suspended if they win the next election because of concerns over spiralling costs.
Speaking to the Evening Post, Lord Freud said: “We have been doing the roll-outs gradually so we can understand what is happening, so in practice you can look at it on an individual by individual basis and see what is happening and any problems can be sorted out quickly. It has made sure we have got something which is secure, so they (the pilot schemes) have been essential.
“We decided to concentrate on one region, so it will be rolled out across the North West – that will be in one in eight jobcentres across Britain.”
The new system incorporates six existing benefits into one payment, aimed to ensure that people are better off if they are in work.
It also continues to support claimants once they have gained employment and allows them to move in and out of work more smoothly, according to the Department of Work and Pensions.
Lord Freud added: “Universal credit is one benefit payment, so you don’t have to worry taking on work whether it be short or long term, you know that you will earn more if you work more. We are motivating people to do what they want to do.
“It means also for employers that they don’t have to have these complicated situations where people can only work up to 16 hours say and no more (because of the limitations of their previous benefits), all of these complexities are swept away and they have people who can work for them on a far more straightforward basis.”
Shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves MP said this week that despite her party supporting the UC policy in principle, concerns have been voiced that it has been delivered “massively over-budget.”
Wigan’s pilot scheme was due to start in April 2013 but was delayed for several months due to IT failures.