Brave new world of Universal Credit benefits finds an uncertain welcome on the streets of Ashton-under-Lyne

At a job centre in Ashton-under-Lyne, Kevin Rawlinson meets the first recipients of the new Universal Credit

Ashton-under-Lyne

To the Work and Pensions Secretary in Westminster, Monday’s tentative launch of Universal Credit was the “start of a fundamental cultural shift of the welfare system”. To many of those in the vanguard of Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms in one small part of Greater Manchester, though, it was a confusing and worrying move into the unknown.

There was a steady stream of visitors to the Jobcentre Plus in Ashton-under-Lyne, a small town to the east of Manchester, chosen as the first place in the country to implement Universal Credit.

Most came and went in ones and twos, while G4S security staff stood at the door. One visitor said there were five security guards inside, perhaps in readiness for protests against the new system. Many said little had been explained to them about how they will claim the benefits to which they are entitled in future. They were also worried about the eventual shift to monthly payments and online claims.

“It is better to carry on receiving the money every two weeks because of the cash flow problems monthly payments will cause,” said Danielle Phythian, 20, who was claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance. Others agreed that, once they moved on to the new monthly system, they could struggle to meet their bills in the short term.

John Gartland, 55, said: “I think it is a con, it is another way of keeping the figures down; if someone can’t claim for whatever reason, it is another month until they can.” He wondered if the trial, in a Labour constituency, was “a bit of a north-south bias”. “We seem to get the brunt of it first then it will go down south if it works. I think it will work, it will be made to work because it is the system they want now.”

Much has been made of the Government’s increasing move to online service provision and the greater efficiency it can offer. But one resident, among those who said they could not afford a computer, said many people’s only way of accessing IT facilities was via the local library, which yesterday was closed because of cuts. “You can only really use the computers for an hour at a time anyway,” added John Lunga, 28, adding: “It’s OK if you have a friend who has a computer you can use.” 

Not everyone who spoke to The Independent yesterday was that fortunate. Mr Gartland said of the online transition: “My old employer had a hell of a time online because she had 2,000-3,000 applications for a job that was 20 hours a week. I don’t think it works online because there are too many going for the same position. Jobs are better advertised locally.”

Few people were sure of whether they would be caught up in the Universal Credit changes and were worried by the lack of clear information. Very few are currently subject to the changes but more and more will come under the new system as it is gradually rolled out.

The fact that the Department for Work and Pensions has decided to only explain the changes to claimants when they are affected by them was causing some worry yesterday.

The DWP said that it would provide advice for people who struggled to make the transition from fortnightly to monthly payments, and could possibly arrange an advance.

But the assurance about advice did little to cheer up John Johnson, 23, who went in to sign on for Jobseeker’s Allowance after a period of employment. He said: “I have not been told anything about the changes. It was no different today than any other day. They should have explained the different system they are introducing to us a little bit more.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?