Another hour, another looming change to Universal Credit with Amber Rudd using a visit to Job Centre to say government will seek to make payments to women if they are the household’s main carer.
With an end to both the benefit freeze and two-child cap mooted, Rudd doubled down saying she “understood” criticism over the way the benefit was paid into a single bank account, which could be a problem for some couples or families.
This with a huge Judicial Review defeat in the background as the High Court backed four working single-parent women to say relevant regulations on Universal Credit have been “wrongly” interpreted – at Secretary of State level.
Despite speaking of a “more caring and thoughtful approach” to welfare while on a visit to a South London job centre, Rudd defended the cap, and the “rape clause”, under which women can claim exemption from the policy if they can show they had conceived a third child via domestic abuse or rape.
Women’s Aid calls the policy “objectionable” and likely to hamper some women trying to flee domestic abuse.
But Rudd said she wanted Universal Credit to “particularly help” women.
“That’s why I’m committed to ensuring that household payments go directly to the main carer, which is usually but not always the woman,” she said.
For couples and families, 60% of payments already go to women, she said, adding: “However, I am looking at what more we can do to enable the main carer to receive the UC payment, and we’ll begin to make those payments later this year.”
Other changes outlined by Rudd include a new online system for private landlords to request direct payments for tenants who have problems managing money, and changes to pay childcare costs in advance if needed.
Recent research by Residential Landlords Association (RLA) revealed 61% per cent of landlords with tenants on Universal Credit have seen them go into rent arrears – up from 27% in 2016.
“Improving, and speeding up, the process by which payments can be made directly to the landlord has been a central part of the RLA’s campaign on Universal Credit,” said RLA vice chair Chris Town.
“Anything that helps this will give landlords much greater confidence in the system and ensure tenants have greater security in the knowledge that their rent payments will be met,” he said.
On thawing the benefits freeze, though, Rudd was a little cooler than earlier today saying: “I haven’t had any further conversations with the chancellor, so I’d better not say anything too definitive at this stage, but it would certainly be my view that it should come to an end at that stage.”
But Rudd defended the principle of the two-child limit saying: “I think it is fair that those on welfare make the same considered decisions as other taxpayers who support themselves solely though work.
“So I believe it was right to limit the number of children for whom support can be provided through universal credit funded by the taxpayer.
“However, I believe it is unfair to apply that limit retrospectively.”
Sian Hawkins, Women’s Aid’s head of campaigns, said children born after April 2017 were “still subject to this objectionable policy”, while the rape clause exemption “does not reflect survivors’ lived experience of disclosing domestic abuse and rape”.
She said: “We know from our work with survivors that many women do not have the confidence to speak out about their experience of domestic abuse or rape due to feelings of shame, worrying about the repercussions for their children and fears of the consequences of doing so.”
Will Atkinson, Policy and Programmes Manager at Community Housing Cymru said:
“We welcome the announcement by the work and pensions secretary to abandon the DWP plans to extend a benefits limit on families of more than two children, born before the system was introduced in April 2017.
“However, we would urge the secretary to scrap the two-child limit for all current and future families too.
“We know that the two child policy can push families into poverty once they no longer receive the benefits necessary to cover the cost of feeding and clothing more than two children, and will continue working together with partner federations to tackle the fundamental flaws with Universal Credit on behalf of Welsh housing association tenants.”