Universal credit roll-out will continue - despite opposition
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The roll-out of Universal Credit will not be paused, Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke has said, despite evidence from towns like Great Yarmouth it has caused homelessness.
Mr Gauke told the Conservative Party conference he would tweak the system to ensure claimants are offered advance payments upfront, amid criticism people are waiting six weeks for any money and getting into debt.
But he insisted the 'rollout will continue' despite pressure for a pause from a dozen Tory MPs, as well as Labour and a number of charities.
Chancellor Philip Hammond also said on Tuesday that Universal Credit created 'challenges' for claimants who find themselves waiting weeks for their first payments.
But in his speech in Manchester, Mr Gauke said: 'Universal Credit is working. So I can confirm that the rollout will continue, and to the planned timetable.
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'We're not going to rush things, it is more important to get this right than to do this quickly, and this won't be completed until 2022.
'But across the country, we will continue to transform our welfare system to further support those who aspire to work.'
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Universal Credit combines a number of benefits such as housing benefit and tax credits into a single payment.
From October the pace of its rollout is due to be ramped up, with 50 Jobcentres moving to the service every month from October.
It was introduced to Great Yarmouth last year and has been blamed for an increase in food bank use in the town.
It will be rolled-out fully in Norwich in summer 2018.
Government figures show 23pc of new claimants do not receive their first full payment within six weeks, which has been linked to rent arrears and other debts for claimants.
Norwich North MP Chloe Smith welcomed the news there would be help for those falling behind on bills.
She said: 'The Government is getting this right. Universal Credit is badly needed because it will help more people into work and off benefit and my constituents can be reassured that the Government cares about the way it will be introduced'.
The Conservative MP had previously written to Mr Gauke seeking reassurance that the government would minimise delay in payments for her constituents.
Mr Gauke said he understood the concerns, adding that people can get advance payments to tide them over.
'I am determined to ensure that those who need support earlier in the month will get it,' he said.
'I can announce today that we are refreshing the guidance to DWP staff to ensure that anyone who needs an advance payment will be offered it upfront.
'Claimants who want an advance payment will not have to wait six weeks. They will receive this advance within five working days.'
People with an immediate need will have their payments fast-tracked, Mr Gauke added.