MORE than 252,000 people in the South East are now receiving personalised Universal Credit support, new figures show.
And in Wokingham borough, there are 2,820 residents on the scheme. This is more than the number of people in Bracknell Forest, on a par with Windsor and Maidenhead, but under half the number of claimants in Reading borough.
The latest data, published on Friday but the Department for Work and Pensions show that nationwide, there are now 2.5 million people receiving the controversial scheme, an increase of 5% over the month.
The DWP says that Universal Credit simplifies the benefits system and replaces six previous benefits with a single monthly payment.
And it says that those on the scheme are moving into work significantly faster and staying in work longer than under the old system.
Minister for Welfare Delivery Will Quince said: “Universal Credit is a force for good, providing vital support across the length and breadth of the South East and helping people in to work.
“Universal Credit provides a vital safety net to millions, preventing families from falling through the cracks. We continue to make improvements – in the last month alone we have increased childcare support.
Mr Quince continued: “We also announced new funding to help veterans and their families, and brought in new measures to crack down on fraudsters.”
But not everyone is happy with the system.
Cllr Rachel Burgess, Wokingham Borough Council Labour member for Norreys ward, said: “Universal credit reforms have been a disaster. They have thrown thousands of people into poverty and Wokingham is no different.
“Due to the blatant inadequacies of the system people are left unable to feed their families or heat their homes without help, and the continuing demand for Wokingham’s foodbank is in no small part testament to the Tories’ failing policy.
“The scheme was supposed to ‘make work pay’ yet many of those living in poverty on Universal Credit are in working families.
“Universal Credit needs to be scrapped – we should be helping people out of poverty and treating them with the dignity they deserve, not leaving them to choose between heating and eating, and driving them further into poverty.”
And Cllr Lindsay Ferris, leader of the Liberal Democrats group on Wokingham Borough Council, said: “The principle of Universal Credit – that is one payment – is fine. The problem has always been the delays in receiving the benefit and the level of payments made.
“Five weeks [to deliver] was causing unnecessary harm and distress with many people building up debt and being reliant on Food Banks, even here in Wokingham.
“The recent proposals to cut the time will help, but not eliminate this problem as even a short delay can cause problems for people with next to nothing to support themselves.”
To learn more about Universal Credit or to check eligibility, visit www.understandinguniversalcredit.gov.uk
Local authorities and number of claimants
- Basingstoke and Deane 4,462
- Bracknell Forest 2,709
- Reading 6,636
- West Berkshire 3,874
- Windsor & Maidenhead 2,826
- Wokingham 2,820
Source: Department for Work and Pensions