It’s admittedly difficult to get resources to people given the state of the benefits system. The Chancellor has pleaded that it’s difficult to get higher benefits paid to people, because so many benefits don’t run on the shiny new systems introduced for Universal Credit. Many people are still on legacy benefits, which rely on older computer systems.
A focus on Universal Credit may seem the best option available, but there are two large deficiencies in that. The first is the deliberate exclusion of so many people from Universal Credit itself. The coverage of UC is limited by design: the limitations are produced by
- work requirements
- people excluded from recourse to public funds
- sanctions (the largest number being for people who have missed a meeting)
- limited entitlements because of notional (or imaginary) income
- capital rules
- the arbitrary changes in entitlement coming from fluctuating incomes, and
- Inaction/suspension because information required
At slightly higher income levels, people may also drop out of the UC system because of the benefit cap or the two child limit.
The second problem, of course, is that people may not have claimed UC although they were entitled to it. The government seemes to be working on the wholly implausible assumption that takeup is about 83% – which would mean that the takeup of UC was markedly better than the previous takeup of Pension Credit, Job Seekers Allowance or any disability benefit, and that that would be true despite UC’s special blend of all the factors identified as deterring takeup in previous research (PDF file).
There are other ways of getting money to people on the lowest incomes. Cold weather payments (ignore the weather bit) provide one obvious mechanism: they make it possible for the government to transfer money automatically to recipients of Pension Credit, UC, Income Support, income-based JSA or ESA. Or, if that’s too finicky, Winter Fuel Payments (which aren’t actually assessed in winter anyway) go to every pensioner, and Child Benefit goes to every child – that covers, in a simple and practical way, a substantial majority of people on lower incomes. Putting money into pensions and Child Benefit as well as UC would be hugely more helpful than UC alone. The targeting is not perfect, but it’s practical and a more effective than tax reductions could ever be.