The problems of Universal Credit aren’t just about transition

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.

2 comments

  1. Diane

    There is also the small defects which affect those who claim such as, claiming tax credits. A couple claimed and received them, a month or two later the woman got dentist treatment and stated she was receiving the credit only to get a letter from the NHS claiming she had fraudulently claimed and was due money. She had no idea that the universal credit had stopped the payment, there was no notification of this and since it was such a small amount the couple did not notice. They were to produce letters of confirmation of universal credit wich they never had. All they had was a few payments showing on the husbands bank statement. Surely this is unfair and another tangle in the UC mess.

  2. Andrew_S_Hatton

    I am new to this (in a way) but did do a CPAG Welfare Rights Evening Class in 1975/6 when I first started working as a probation officer/social worker after qualification – eventually I found that I did not have the time and energy to do very much direct work on these issues and tended to refer to specialist agencies when necessary.

    However I have tried to keep a general eye on the way these things work out and am currently reading in Social Media criticism of the Labour Party’s front-bench not being clear about their future policy with Universal Credit.

    Obviously at least, a major overhaul is needed and increased funding – to enable it to function & I would argue also for some discretion as used to apply under the old DHSS regime, though discretion is open to unfairness, but in principle there are crisis situations which need to be tackled to prevent serious health and welfare catastrophies.

    However, I also recollect discussions – I probably first heard them on my Social Work Training Course (1973-5) about a desire to amalgamate all benefits and (this was Social Democrat Party policy and probably Liberal as well – in the 1980s) and have a unified tax and benefit system – the only arguments against doing it NOW or at any past time – is the complexity.

    I wonder whether the Labour paty’s apparent prevarication originates from an idea that – let us at least utilise the work done thus far on unification – if that is possible.

    I am curious about when the idea of first unifying Benifts was seriously considered by a UK Government?

    My Internet searches have brought me here – can a reader direct me to a summary of the history of this issue please?

Leave a Reply