The Government’s minister for welfare reform admits the introduction of universal credit across St Helens is unlikely to be hitch-free.
From this week new, single jobseekers in St Helens will be enrolled on universal credit - instead of the old benefits package.
But Lord Freud told the St Helens Reporter ministers are “learning all the time” as the new benefits system is introduced and making minor adjustments as problems arise.
He said: “We’re going at it very carefully - doing it safely and securely. We’re learning how particular types of people can be affected by the changes and making little adjustments to the system all the time. Some of the things which have popped up have surprised us.
“But the IT system which is being used for the North West roll-out is fairly straightforward - it will take people’s details accurately but, as yet, will not support any interactivity.
“As we build what we want to do we will switch to an interactive system in which people will be able to use an app on their smartphones.”
Lord Freud said couples in St Helens would soon be enrolled onto universal credit too - perhaps by the end of the year - and said childcare issues would soon be taken into account.
He claimed the old benefits system was not only too complicated and not fit for purpose, but “disempowering” for benefits claimants.
He said: “Universal credit combines some pretty complicated individual benefits into just one and includes both in work and out of work benefits. When someone goes onto universal credit they stay on it - even if they find short-term jobs or lower paid jobs. There’s less bureaucracy too.
“On the existing system claimants don’t know what will happen if they change their behaviour - and that can be incredibly disempowering. Many people don’t know whether accepting an extra three or four hours work a week will jeopardise their benefits. This means people get frozen in what they are doing because they know that package works for them.”
Lord Freud claimed universal credit would be a good thing for young jobseekers in St Helens too.
He added: “It is in your interest to do any work you want to try. This will be an advantage for young people because they will be able to experiment more - for example working at events over the weekends.
“The current benefits regime is inflexible. On jobseeker’s allowance people can become reluctant to work for short periods because of how it might affect their benefits.”