I looked at the report of the Resolution Foundation on Universal Credit when it came out, but wasn’t particularly excited by it. It seems to say that the system can still be made to work given time and effort, and I’m not convinced that it can. I referred to a number of the “teething” problems, so-called, in a previous post: they included
- the difficulties people have in making digital claims
- the lack of reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities
- requiring claimants to make claims in order to migrate, and using mistakes or omissions as a reason to demand fresh claims
- insufficient levels of ‘universal support’
- obstacles to cooperation with welfare rights advisers
- the DWP’s apparent inability to engage with the process by which claimants report changes, the electronic ‘journal’, and
- the inappropriate use of sanctions.
But there are many more problems, where the system simply cannot operate as intended. Those include
- the muddled system for verification, which cannot be done online
- the demand for instant assessment, rather than basing claims on previous, known income
- the unpredictability of a system where entitlements can be revised at short notice before payment date
- the use of individuated payment dates
- the lack of effective coordination with taxation
- the confused treatment of self-employed people
- the alterations to work allowances, which mean among other things that contact will no longer be maintained
- the effect of fluctuating entitlement on household management, particular evident in the treatment of rent
- the impact of the system on housing finance, and
- arrangements for transition that lead to major income loss.
Beyond that, in terms of the overall design of the benefit, there are several systemic flaws:
- the complex means test
- the reliance on digital systems
- the reliance on immediate access to information that people cannot know about
- the high taper rates
- the failure to individuate claims
- the lack of flexibility, and
- the central confusion about employment and job-seeking – once the system is fully rolled out, most claimants on Universal Credit will not be seeking work.
The operational problems are all difficult, requiring a rethink of policy and administration to make the system work . However, even if they were all to be resolved, the fundamental defects in the system would remain.