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Universal credit: the debate has changed under May's leadership but issues remain

The Conservatives have repeatedly cut welfare costs in recent years Credit: PA

Today’s autumn statement is another brick in the wall Theresa May is trying to build to separate her from her predecessor on the issue of welfare.

The reduction in the Universal Credit taper rate - a tapered reduction in benefits for claimants who are also earning some income - gives back to claimants something George Osborne took away. It is clearly meant to signal that this Government is not as “nasty” as the last Tory administration.

The Government says people will be “better off” as a result of the changes. But their critics just say they will be less worse off.

For the past three years Tory welfare cuts have been at the heart of both the budgets and the Autumn statements.

There have been days of intense argument and analysis as the axe fell on the benefits paid to some of our most vulnerable. But times have changed – even if the issues haven’t gone away.

Today's Autumn Statement feels more post-Brexit in tone. It feels as if the heat has gone out of the welfare argument with the Tories promising not to take more away - and are actually claiming to be giving something back.

But, there are still real challenges with welfare and a change in the national political debate doesn’t mean they have gone away.

Some of the big issues remaining include:

  • Universal Credit

The roll out of Universal Credit is massively behind schedule. There are remaining and significant IT problems, and even this new taper rate is nowhere near the one first muted as the one that would “make work pay”.

  • Benefit Sanctions

The sanctions regime is still regarded by many critics as too severe and unfair on the most vulnerable amongst us who struggle to follow instructions and are punished financially for failing to do so.

  • Employment Support Allowance

The sick and disabled on Employment Support Allowance are about to lose up to £30 a week on reforms introduced by George Osborne.

  • Benefit Assessments

There are still complaints about the way the Work Capability Assesment is carried out and the pressures it can put people under. A DWP review is currently underway following a green paper at the end of last month.

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