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Universal Credit claimants will be supported over Christmas, says Gauke

Labour said the changes were not enough.

Universal Credit (UC) claimants will not be left penniless over Christmas, the Work and Pensions Secretary said as he defended a £1.5 billion reform package announced in the Budget.

David Gauke hinted he would like to make the system more generous “if resources allowed” but insisted that concerns about the benefit had been listened to.

Chancellor Philip Hammond used his Budget to reduce the time people wait to receive the benefit from six weeks to five and changed the way advances are paid.

The rollout of the benefit will also be slowed and UC will not be used for new claimants in all jobcentres until December 2018, three months later than previously expected.

Criticism of the policy has focused on the six-week delay between making a claim and receiving money and the Budget announced plans to shave a week off that period.

To ensure people can cope while waiting, the advances system will be made more generous from January with up to 100% of a payment now available as an interest-free loan in advance instead of 50%, repayable over 12 months instead of six.

Mr Gauke told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: “The point about advances is that people are able to access money early. It’s really important, particularly in the context of Christmas, people need to be reassured.

“They do not have to wait five weeks to get support, they can get support within five working days – actually if they really need it they can get payments on the day.

“And for those people who are, for example, claiming Universal Credit for the first time in mid-December, they know they can get an advance worth 50% to tide them through the Christmas period and then come back again in January when we will have changed the advances system and they will be able to get the other 50% in the new year.

“So actually people are getting some support over Christmas.”

Mr Gauke indicated he would have liked to do more to ensure that claimants kept more of the benefit as they increased their earnings through taking a job.

A UC award is reduced by 63p for every £1 a claimant earns over their work allowance following a change which came into effect in April, having previously been 65p.

Mr Gauke said he would like to go further: “If resources allowed I think that would be something that we would definitely want to consider. We all recognise that that would be something that we would like to do but, of course, resources are limited and that is quite an expensive change to make.”

Earlier, the Work and Pensions Secretary had set out the changes in a Commons statement but the package was criticised for not going far enough.

Debbie Abrahams, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “These measures for UC are not enough. They must be brought forward, amended and added to.”

She said the changes would do nothing to help tens of thousands of people waiting for the benefit before Christmas, and voiced concerns that only a week had been removed from the waiting period.

She added: “It is contrary to the ambitions of UC that instead of alleviating poverty, it is going to cause it, let alone an insult to ask people who are not able to make ends meet under the Government’s punitive reforms to bear even more risk, stress and concern.”

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