Universal Credit: New benefit rolled out to families
The government's flagship welfare reform programme Universal Credit is being extended, with parents able to claim it for the first time.
The change will initially apply to parents in parts of north-west England.
The credit, which merges six working-age benefits into a single payment, had previously been available only to single people and couples.
It will be available in a third of job centres by Spring 2015, Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said.
He said the new benefit restored "fairness to the system".
The universal credit system merges six working-age benefits - income-based jobseeker's allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, income support, child tax credit, working tax credit and housing benefit - into a single payment in a far-reaching change designed to encourage work and reduce fraud.
Couples with children and lone parents will now be able to claim Universal Credit worth up to 70% of childcare costs, with a monthly limit for one child of £532, and £912 for two or more children.
It is already available to single and couple claimants in over 80 job centres in England, Wales and Scotland and will be available in nearly 100 job centres by Christmas, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) said.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said: "Universal Credit is bringing welfare into the 21st Century by restoring fairness to the system and making work pay in a modern labour market.
"As part of our long-term economic plan, today sees the next stage of this welfare revolution brining families on-board with extra childcare support and flexibility for employers. By spring next year one in three jobcentres will be offering the new benefit."
BBC social affairs correspondent Mark Easton
Universal credit has been hailed by the government as a revolution in welfare provision, bringing together six existing benefits, including job seekers allowance and housing benefit.
But the scheme has been beset by problems - tens of millions of pounds have been written off due to technical problems and only 20,000 people are currently claiming it, rather than the one million initially envisaged by ministers.
Those who are already receiving it have been mainly single people with no housing costs, but from today parents in a small part of the north west of England will be able to apply.
If they're eligible, they'll be able to get much more extensive help with child care costs than under existing benefit rules.
The expansion to more complex cases will be a key test of universal credit's robustness, and it's IT system in particular.
The national audit office, which said in a report last year that universal credit was not achieving value for money, is due to deliver another assessment tomorrow.
The department also said research suggested that those on Universal Credit report that they are working more over a six-month period, and that people find the welfare reform easier to understand.
The DWP originally promised to have one million people on universal credit by April 2014, but the project has been delayed a number of times since its creation and MPs have criticised the way it has been managed.
Labour's Rachel Reeves has previously said her party would "pause" Universal Credit if it wins the next general election in 2015.
Source : Click Me