The government will seek to make universal credit payments to women if they are the household???s main carer, Amber Rudd has said, as part of a package of changes to the heavily criticised benefits system that have been unveiled by the work and pensions secretary.
Rudd, who also said she wanted the long freeze on working-age benefit levels to end next year, used a speech at a jobcentre in south London to further emphasise what she said is a more caring and thoughtful approach to the welfare system.
A key element to this is the news that the planned mass ???migration??? of claimants on existing benefits to universal credit, which replaces a series of payments, would instead be paused so a trial of 10,000 people could be held.
???We will tread cautiously,??? on the change, pledged Rudd, who took the work and pensions job when Esther McVey quit in November.
Rudd also confirmed the partial scrapping of the controversial two-child limit on universal credit payments, but only for this benefit and for children born after April 2017, when the wider limit was first introduced.
She defended the cap, and the ???rape clause???, under which women can claim exemption from the policy if they can show they had conceived a third child via domestic abuse or rape. The charity Women???s Aid called the policy ???objectionable??? and likely to hamper some women trying to flee domestic abuse.
In the speech, Rudd said she wanted universal credit to particularly help women, and she understood the criticism over the way the benefit was paid into a single bank account, which could be a problem for some couples or families.
???That???s why I???m committed to ensuring that household payments go directly to the main carer, which is usually but not always the woman,??? she said.
For couples and families, 60% of payments already go to women, she said, adding: ???However, I am looking at what more we can do to enable the main carer to receive the UC payment, and we???ll begin to make those payments later this year.???
Other changes outlined by Rudd include a new online system for private landlords to request direct payments for tenants who have problems managing money, and changes to pay childcare costs in advance if needed.
On the benefits freeze, which was introduced in 2015 by the then chancellor George Osborne and is estimated to have cost some working families hundreds of pounds a year, Rudd confirmed she wanted it to end but had yet to discuss this with the chancellor, Philip Hammond.
Asked about this after the speech, she said: ???The benefits freeze is scheduled to come to an end next year. I haven???t had any further conversations with the chancellor, so I???d better not say anything too definitive at this stage, but it would certainly be my view that it should come to an end at that stage.???
But Rudd defended the principle of the two-child limit: ???I think it is fair that those on welfare make the same considered decisions as other taxpayers who support themselves solely though work.
???So I believe it was right to limit the number of children for whom support can be provided through universal credit funded by the taxpayer. However, I believe it is unfair to apply that limit retrospectively.???
This prompted criticism from Sian Hawkins, Women???s Aid???s head of campaigns, who said children born after April 2017 ???are still subject to this objectionable policy???, while the rape clause exemption ???does not reflect survivors??? lived experience of disclosing domestic abuse and rape???.
She added: ???We know from our work with survivors that many women do not have the confidence to speak out about their experience of domestic abuse or rape due to feelings of shame, worrying about the repercussions for their children and fears of the consequences of doing so.???