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Christian charities express concern over benefit shake-up

The biggest step so far in the government's plan to get people off benefits and into work is getting started with the introduction of the Universal Credit. Claimants in Ashton-under-Lyne are trying out the system which sees six benefits being merged, income-based jobseeker's allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, income support, child tax credit, working tax credit, and housing benefit.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said it will change the world of work:

"It will ensure that people going back into work part time etc on their way to full time work will always be better off in work at any hours, unlike tax credits.

"It will not be open to as much abuse or fraud as tax credit was, we will be getting monthly summaries of payments, it will be adjusted each month."

Christian Guy is from the Centre For Social Justice - which helped come up with the idea - he tells Premier why it is needed:

Critics are concerned the computer system used to run it is too complicated.

Shadow employment minister and Christian Stephen Timms said the principle is fine but the way it's being delivered is a problem:

"The computer system is clearly no where near ready, and whereas the government has kind of presented this as a sort of panacea for all the problems of the social security system, the reality, I think is, is going to be very long delays, a lot of confusion and uncertainty over the coming months."

Niall Cooper, from Church Action on Poverty, told Premier's News Hour he has concerns:

The Government said a telephone helpline will be available Monday to Friday 8am to 6pm to help people complete their claim online. Eight computers will be available at Ashton-Under-Lyne Jobcentre Plus to help people who do not have access to the internet, and over 130 computers will also be available at certain libraries and council offices in Tameside.

Dan Tansey is the London Regional Manager for Christians Against Poverty. He tells Premier the changes will be tough for those using the system:

Matthew Reed, the chief executive of the Children's Society, is worried:

"What is really important for us is that the system is tested to make sure it is fair, secondly it's tested to make sure it acts as a work incentive rather than a work disincentive, but overall we are concerned that the system is being tested on a very small number of people in the first instance, none of whom have children."

Wigan, Warrington and Oldham Jobcentres will begin taking claims for Universal Credit starting from July.  A gradual national rollout will start from October 2013, and full roll-out of Universal Credit will be completed across the UK by 2017.

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