Amber Rudd has been urged to take further steps to help people on Universal Credit after unveiling reforms of a system she said was not as “effective” or “compassionate” as she wanted.
Charities, church and union leaders spoke out after the Work and Pensions Secretary said a plan to move three million people on to the single benefit payment would be delayed until 2020.
Ms Rudd also said a controversial plan to apply a two-child benefit cap retrospectively to new Universal Credit (UC) claimants would be axed in a move that will help around 15,000 families.
She said it was not “reasonable” to impose the two-child cap – intended to force claimants to make decisions on whether they can afford a third child in the same way as those in work – on families which already have more than two offspring.
Ms Rudd also signalled that an end is in sight for the longstanding benefit freeze introduced by former chancellor George Osborne in 2016, saying “it should come to an end” in 2020.
However, she admitted she had yet to discuss extra funding with Chancellor Philip Hammond.
Other changes will make the system more “individual”, tailoring it to claimants’ needs by making payments more regular or paying rent money direct to landlords.
Shelter chief executive Polly Neate said the benefit freeze had been causing “real hardship”, including affecting people’s ability to pay their rent.
She said: “We hope the government is now waking up to the challenges faced by tens of thousands of households around the country who cannot wait until 2020 for the freeze to be lifted.
“They need action now to avoid homelessness.”
Save The Children’s Steven McIntosh said the announcements were “a step in the right direction”, but added: “Families are forced to pay sky-high childcare fees before waiting weeks to be paid back.
“This risks plunging families into debt or keeping parents out of work, undermining the whole system.
“The Secretary of State acknowledged this is a huge issue but the proposed solution – short-term support and flexibility over deadlines when parents start work – tinkers around the edges of a problem that needs addressing head on.”
The two-child cap limits support for families through tax credits, housing benefit and UC to the first two offspring.
Subsequent children, except in special cases, are not entitled to the “child element”, which is currently £2,780 a year.
Ms Rudd’s move came as the Commons Work and Pensions Committee branded the plans to retrospectively extend the cap to children born before it was brought in “cruel”.