Universal Credit has the potential to help families locked in poverty but urgent improvements are needed.

The independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation has published a new analysis of UC concluding that it has the potential to help families locked in poverty but urgent improvements in its design, funding and delivery are needed if it is not to drive some people towards destitution. 1

A big criticism of UC has been of delays in receiving benefits and the Foundation highlighted the unacceptable five-week wait. Chief Executive Campbell Robb said: “The needs of claimants must be acted on, and that means understanding the realities of their lives. Waiting for five weeks without savings and when you are used to regular wages is difficult for everyone but impossible for some. Likewise, consistently receiving less than you need to because you are paying back an advance can push people over the edge and into destitution.”

One of the report’s recommendations is to ensure that all claimants receive a payment within two weeks and to make sure that people can get paid regularly enough to meet their needs. However, it considers that “the best immediate step the Government should take would be to lift the freeze on working age benefits this April.”

1 https://www.jrf.org.uk/press/universal-credit-can-loosen-grip-poverty-further-reform-needed

Tiny changes in circumstances can force people onto UC with benefit cuts

The Daily Mirror reported on a meeting on 27 February 2019 of the Work and Pensions Select Committee 1 which is investigating “winners and losers” under the move to UC with evidence from welfare and policy finance experts. 2 MPs were warned that families are suffering from being shunted onto UC without any transition cash. The changes can be as small as a child’s fifth birthday when Income Support ends for some single parents. Other examples could be having a first child, a break up, moving house, or becoming or stopping being a carer.

The think tank Policy in Practice is quoted as saying that 40% of claimants will lose out by an average of £59 per week compared with the old system but 33% are expected to gain by £44 a week. Poor self-employed people, disability benefit claimants, and homeowners receiving tax credits are among the groups with the most “losers” under UC. The Resolution Foundation think tank suggested ministers “move into slowing down” the process and Citizens Advice called on the government to “slow down natural migration.”

Jean Kilshaw, on behalf of Feeding Camden

1https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/universal-credit-thousands-lose-cash-14061151
2https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/news-parliament-2017/winners-losers-universal-credit-17-19/

Universal Credit has the potential to help families locked in poverty but urgent improvements are needed.