I respect the Archbishop of Canterbury very much and usually agree with his pronouncements. He has had a proper job in the oil industry before receiving the call into Christian ministry which took him rapidly to his senior position. A very good man.
However, I profoundly disagree with his recent attack on Universal Credit, which he has called the continuation of an ancient evil. That is not my experience.
Universal Credit has been rolled out in Plymouth for the best part of a year now, with South Hams more recently. I visited the jobcentre offices in Plymouth some weeks ago for a briefing on how this was going. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, all of the staff who engaged with me on this matter gave it a big thumbs up, pointing out that the vast majority of claimants were getting their money on time without fuss or delay.
Furthermore, in almost twelve months I have had less than a half dozen constituents come to me to help sort out a problem with UC. I hold a surgery virtually every week, and people are e-mailing me and ringing my office constantly. People raise every issue under the sun, including many benefit related issues. But less than half a dozen UC matters in 12 months tells its own story.
There had been some teething problems in the early days of this benefit, but it seems that they have all been ironed out. Now people can get an advance to help them through the early weeks which they pay back over a longer period.
The whole point of the change is to both simplify an archaic set of benefits and make it much easier to claim and administer and also to make sure that working always pays – so to enable people to taper off benefits and get back into work. That certainly seems to be working with unemployment falling again and again to now record lows.
Of course it is not perfect. The assessment system still leaves a lot to be desired with inordinate delays for some in getting assessed and some random decisions.
A life on benefits is not much of a life but it is wrong to point the finger at Universal Credit as being the primary cause of misery. Our welfare safety net is there to help those who need it, but it has to encourage the return to work whereverpossible. That clearly is in everyone’s long term interest.