Category Archives: Universal Credit

Think tank: Most coping well with Universal Credit

Online payment and shopping concepts.

A right wing think tank reckons that most claimants are coping well with Universal Credit – but that more can be done to improve things.

Bright Blue, which calls itself ‘an independent think tank for liberal conservatism’, has published a report based on 40 ‘depth interviews’, whatever they are, with  ‘a broadly representative sample of current claimants in England’.

‘Helping Hand? Improving Universal Credit’ concludes that ‘most claimants are coping with and adapting to UC’ and that there are ‘positive experiences, especially with work coaches’.

Eyebrow-raisingly, the think tank says that its interviewees commonly described UC as ‘helpful, straightforward, smooth and easy’.

However, apparently it’s not all good as Bright Blue concedes that a ‘significant minority of claimants are struggling with certain key design features such as the online nature…and monthly payment in arrears, either initially or in the long-term’.

The report goes on to say that the biggest challenge claimants face is ‘the initial waiting period of at least five weeks, which most claimants in fact struggle with’, while ‘a clear majority’ of interviewees ‘felt that the housing element of UC should be the reverse of the new status quo and be paid directly to landlords’.

So, what does the think tank recommend? Among other things,  new claimants should receive a one-off upfront ‘helping hand’ payment, equal to 25% of their estimated initial UC award.

Meanwhile, ‘claimant commitments should be rewritten to include obligations of individuals and institutions that support UC claimants. If these obligations are not met, Independent Case Examiners should determine whether compensation to claimants is paid in their next UC award.’

Additionally, the government should ‘introduce a live chat facility within online UC accounts, so claimants can get their queries and problems addressed almost anytime and anywhere’.

Bright Blue director, Ryan Shorthouse, said: ‘Universal Credit has plenty of potential. A majority of claimants are coping with and adapting to Universal Credit. There are positive experiences with work coaches. And there are positive attitudes too: especially towards the single payment model and the use of conditionality.

‘However, as it has gone from idea to implementation, the initial widespread support Universal Credit enjoyed has dissipated. Despite welcome improvements made by the Government in recent years, there are too many examples and too much evidence of significant hardship experienced by a sizable minority of those on Universal Credit.’

Anyway, the report’s press release is here which has far more detail in it than I’ve shared.

 

 

Universal Credit plunging ‘people into misery and despair’

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Universal Credit (UC) has finally gained international recognition – and it isn’t good.

After a 12-day visit of Britain, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights has concluded that the government’s flagship reform of the benefit system has ‘plunged people into misery and despair’.

Speaking at the end of his tour, during which he spoke to Brits living in poverty in cities such as Newcastle, Belfast and Glasgow, professor Philip Alston said ‘if a new government were interested, the harshness could be changed overnight and for very little money’.

And what of the present government trying to run the UK? Well, they’re not having any of it, with a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesperson saying that ‘we completely disagree with this analysis,’ adding that the changes had led to the highest ever household incomes, record lows of children living in workless households, and one million fewer people living in poverty than in 2010.

In Newcastle, prof Alston visited the country’s largest food bank, which led him to say: ‘The picture I got in Newcastle, in particular, was a pretty grim one. I think local government cuts are draconian and will change the fabric of British society, but particularly in an area like the North East where you don’t have the same degree of economic vibrancy as you have in London, where these policies seem to be being designed.’

According to the special rapporteur’s report 14 million Brits are living in poverty, of which 1.5 million are classed as destitute and unable to afford basic essentials.

Prof Alston’s study contains particular scorn for UC, noting: ‘No single program embodies the combination of the benefits reforms and the promotion of austerity programs more than UC. Although in its initial conception it represented a potentially major improvement in the system, it is fast falling into Universal Discredit.’

Though he admits that the plan to rolling six different benefits into ‘makes good sense, in principle’, the professor slammed the DWP for being ‘more concerned with making economic savings and sending messages about lifestyles than responding to the multiple needs of those living with a disability, job loss, housing insecurity, illness, and the demands of parenting’.

Responding, the DWP said that UC is ‘supporting people into work faster, but we are listening to feedback and have made numerous improvements to the system including ensuring 2.4 million households will be up to £630 better off a year as a result of raising the work allowance.

‘We are absolutely committed to helping people improve their lives while providing the right support for those who need it.’

The special rapporteur’s full statement can be read here.

Benefit sanctions ‘harmful’, ‘counterproductive’ and ‘pointlessly cruel’

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The government’s benefit sanction regime on people with a disability or health condition ‘does not work’ and is ‘harmful and counterproductive’, the Work and Pensions Committee has found.

In its newly published Benefit Sanctions report, the committee concludes that the ‘human cost of continuing to apply the existing regime of benefit sanctions appears simply too high’.

According to the committee, back in 2012 the then coalition government ‘had little or no understanding of the likely impact of a tougher sanctions regime’ when it introduced the sanctions.

At that point, the coalition promised to review the new rules’ impact and whether they were achieving their aims on an ongoing basis – but the committee says that six years later the government ‘is none the wiser’.

One expert witness told the committee that ‘if it was not for the embarrassment, the government would have suspended ESA sanctions altogether as soon as that National Audit Office finding came out that sanctioned ESA claimants were less likely to get into work’.

The report reveals that single parents, care leavers and people with a disability or health condition are disproportionately vulnerable to and affected by the withdrawal of benefits, and that until the government can ‘show unequivocally that sanctions actually help to move these claimants into work, it cannot justify these groups continued inclusion in the sanctions regime’.

The committee’s chair, Frank Field MP, said: ‘We have heard stories of terrible and unnecessary hardship from people who’ve been sanctioned. They were left bewildered and driven to despair at becoming, often with their children, the victims of a sanctions regime that is at times so counter-productive it just seems pointlessly cruel.’

UN extreme poverty expert to inspect…UK

The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights is to start a fact-finding tour of the UK, which doesn’t exactly make you swell with pride, does it?

Between 5-16 November, Philip Alston will visit Belfast, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Essex, Glasgow, London, Newcastle, and Jaywick, wherever that is, to examine the effects of the government’s austerity measures, such as cuts to benefits and local government funding.

Mr Alston said: ‘The United Kingdom is one of the richest countries in the world, but millions of people are still living in poverty there.

‘I have received hundreds of submissions that make clear many people are really struggling to make ends meet.’

Mr Alston – who has been designated by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor, report and advise on extreme poverty – will meet with government officials and people affected by poverty to learn about their experiences.

During the two-week visit that is guaranteed to send the Daily Mail absolutely bananas, some of the topics the Special Rapporteur will address include Universal Credit, child poverty, and the implications of Brexit on the UK’s poorest.

Additionally, he’ll look at the impact of the government’s increasing use of digital on the most vulnerable, such as making access to Universal Credit ‘digital by default’.

‘Poverty is intertwined with human rights standards that the United Kingdom has ratified, including the right to food, housing, and an adequate standard of living and it affects access to civil and political rights,’ the Special Rapporteur said, adding that the ‘government has made significant changes to social protection in the past decade, and I will be looking closely at the impact that has had on people living in poverty and their realisation of basic rights.’

The man’s preliminary observations and recommendations will be shared at a news conference at the end of his mission on 16 November, with his final report presented to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in June 2019.