Stephen Crabb 'committed' to Universal Credit
Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb has said he is "absolutely committed" to the government's flagship Universal Credit reform.
In his first speech since replacing Iain Duncan Smith, Mr Crabb defended the policy, which has been beset by delays, saying it would be "the spine that runs through the welfare system".
Universal Credit brings together six work-age benefits into one payment.
Labour said it risked being "stillborn" due to cuts to its budget.
The opposition backs the principle of Universal Credit, which ministers say will simplify the welfare system and make work pay.
Speaking at the Early Intervention Foundation conference in London, Mr Crabb said it could be the "most important public sector change project for decades" and would not "treat a person as a number".
He attempted to counter criticism of the scheme, saying people on Universal Credit were spending more time looking for work, were more likely to be looking for work, and were earning more.
Under the reforms, those receiving income-based jobseeker's allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, income support, child tax credit, working tax credit and housing benefit will receive a single monthly payment instead.
In November 2011, Mr Duncan Smith said a million people would be on the benefit by April 2014 and all 7.7 million households would be on it by 2017.
But it has faced repeated IT problems, delays and criticism from auditors. The Department for Work and Pensions said over 200,000 people were currently enrolled, with the latest target for a full roll-out of 2021.
Mr Crabb said it would be available in every job centre this month, before the "ambitious full roll-out" for all first-time claimants.
The former Welsh secretary replaced Mr Duncan Smith - who quit in protest at now-scrapped disability cuts - last month.
He also pledged a "relentless focus on improving life chances" and said he would lead a "more coherent and collaborative government strategy" to tackle poverty.
Mr Crabb's opposite number, Labour's Owen Smith, said Universal Credit was a "great idea" but warned of the impact of spending cuts, calling on the minister to carry out a "thorough review".
"Unless he reverses the cuts in the work allowance and restores the work incentives it's going to leave millions of people worse off," he added.