Universal credit plans scrutinised by peers


Peers have attacked the details of the government's welfare reform plans during a debate on 13 February 2013.

As part of the government's overhaul of the welfare system, universal credit will replace a number of existing welfare benefits including housing benefit, working tax credit, child tax credit and income support.

But Labour's Baroness Sherlock said she had "very significant concerns" about the way the new system would be brought into force.

Lady Sherlock tabled a motion to regret the government's Universal Credit Regulations 2013, arguing that the measures will not make work pay for many people - as the government asserts - will fail to address the needs of disabled people and risk pushing families into poverty and homelessness.

Former leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats Lord German said the reforms were "travelling in the right direction" but highlighted the need to set up "supportive services in advance" for those who were unclear about how the changes would affect them.

Labour peer and former work and pensions minister Baroness Hollis of Heigham described the regulations as "confusing" and warned: "I fear, on delivery, we could be heading for a train crash."

The online processing of benefit claims was a source of concern to several peers.

"It is most important that those who are in a commanding position assist potential beneficiaries to understand the process of change-over," said Conservative former technology minister Lord Eden of Winton.

Responding for the government, Work and Pensions Minister Lord Freud told the House: "Universal credit will change work incentives out of all recognition, manifestly for the best."

He specified that the increased marginal deduction rate - the reduced means-tested benefit payments incurred on earning an additional £1 - is being made "in many cases because people are being brought into entitlement for universal credit so they are actually better off".

Earlier in the debate, he assured peers "supporting channels such as telephony will continue and face-to-face support will still be available to claimants locally".

After the wind-up speeches, Baroness Sherlock forced her motion to regret the regulations to a vote. The amendment was defeated by 239 votes to 169, a government majority of 70.

Later, Lord Freud also secured approval for Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2013, Jobseeker's Allowance Regulations 2013 and Employment and Support Allowance Regulations 2013.

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