Benefits trial: the verdict

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NEWS that the Government’s radical shake-up of the benefits system will be trialled first in Wigan got a mixed reaction today.

The borough is one of four parts of Greater Manchester where the new Universal Credit will be rolled out.

It will be introduced in Wigan next April, six months earlier than the Government had originally planned, in preparation for a national roll-out the following October.

Universal credit will replace six current benefits – Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment Support Allowance, working tax credits, income support, child tax credits and housing benefit – with a single payment for single people or couples, with additional amounts available for families, people who are out of work and facing mortgage re-payments, or those caring for someone who is severely disabled.

There will also be a cap on maximum benefits – expected to be £500 per week. The system will also encourage as many people as possible to fill out the forms and claim benefits online.

Universal Credit is one of a range of welfare changes, including replacing Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payment and penalising people living in houses with unused bedrooms, which critics claim will see thousands lose part of their benefits.

Makerfield MP Yvonne Fovargue said she expected to see a large number of problems with the new system and feared some of Wigan’s most vulnerable people would be left unable to access their benefits.

She said: “I am pleased twe are being piloted before advice service cuts take place in 2013, so at least help will be there for people who are confused, because I think they will need it. I think the forms will be very complex, and I have concerns that the DWP computer system will not link to the local authority computers as it is meant to.

“I do have major concerns that because of that type of issue some of the most vulnerable may be left without any money. I also don’t believe the reforms will simplify the systems because it will have to include all the benefits on the forms, including ones people don’t intend to claim for.

“People’s lives are not simple, everybody is an individual and I worry that by trying to make it one size fits all people will lose out.”

However, Wigan Conservative Federation chair Mike Winstanley said the reforms were necessary as the current benefits system was unsustainable.

He said: “The benefits system needs overhauling, and we must cut the cost of social security in this country and get more people back into work. Successive governments over the past 40 years have failed to grasp the nettle on it, so at least this Government is trying to tackle the problem head on.

“Hopefully any problems with the system can be negotiated with enough assistance out there to help people, and that is why we are having the pilot scheme. I think we also need to look at this in context of the IT facilities of the 21st century, and realise more and more services are going online.”