More than 15,000 Wiganers sign on for Universal Credit
Wigan has the third highest number of residents receiving Universal Credit (UC) in Greater Manchester, new figures reveal.
The latest Government data show there are 15,068 people who get the controversial payments, which was the result of a shake-up replacing a number of different benefits with one single system.
And politicians in the borough have thoroughly rebuffed claims coming from Westminster that this is a good thing for the area.
In the 10 boroughs of GM only Manchester and Oldham have a higher number of people receiving UC.
The figures mean that almost one in 20 people in the borough are receiving the benefit, as its population was 324,650 in 2017 according to the Office of National Statistics.
Wigan also has the fifth highest take-up of UC in the entire North West, with only Liverpool and Wirral having more residents on the benefit than the borough outside of Greater Manchester.
Altogether 327,000 people in the region are receiving the single monthly payments, which have replaced half a dozen previous benefits.
Wigan was chosen to pilot the credit which, at the time, was said to have gone well.
The full roll-out of UC has been extremely controversial, with MPs and charities describing the financial hardship constituents have been plunged into due to problems and delays with the system.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, the scale of UC reliance in the borough produced a response from a local parliamentarian which was markedly different from the positive tone taken by the Government.
Minister for welfare delivery Will Quince said: “Behind these figures are thousands of people getting tailored employment support to either find a job or increase their hours.
“Universal Credit is a force for good – it’s simpler, more flexible and is helping people into work quicker than the old system. Crucially, it adjusts to people’s monthly earnings so there are no disincentives to working.
“Staff across the region, from Carlisle to Cheshire, are supporting people who walk through their local jobcentre doors, with training courses, CV writing help, confidence-building sessions and much more.”
That, though, was emphatically not the view of Yvonne Fovargue, MP for Makerfield,
Ms Fovargue said: “The minister’s rosy assessment of Universal Credit conveniently gloss over the shortcomings of a policy that is pushing many of my constituents into debt.
“The benefit requires a comprehensive overhaul.
“Tinkering around the edges will not improve this system and will leave many working people still reliant on food banks and charities to make ends meet.”
It has been stressed that the numbers of people on UC does not indicate a growth in unemployment, as the benefits shake-up now means the Jobcentre Plus is now working with customers who previously would not have seen work coaches.
Citizens Advice is now running a free Help To Claim service for UC, which is being funded by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Anyone needing to find out more about the system can visit https://understandinguniversalcredit.gov.uk