I’ve just finished giving evidence to the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee about welfare in Scotland – the video is here, the transcript here. The main point I stressed in the hearing is that we no longer have either a minimum threshold for income, or an effective safety net. The first part is true because there are reasons for benefits not to be paid in full: the repayment of advances, notional income, the two-child limit and overpayment recovery. The second part is true because people may find themselves with no support: that can apply because of the five week wait, the 3 week wait for legacy benefits, sanctions, self employment status, immigration status or the treatment of capital.
I have to admit that I’m completely flummoxed by the repeated claims from politicians that Universal Credit is ‘simple’. This seems to mean, that the UC works by comparison with the legacy benefits; but many of the complexities of legacy benefits, such as managing overpayments, conditionality, assessments and the benefit cap, are recent introductions.
Universal Credit is complicated by design. It brings together disparate benefits within a common framework of rules. Pre-existing rules relating to worklessness, incapacity, and housing largely remain, and that means that UC is really a group of benefits clumped together under a shared masthead – a ‘portmanteau’ benefit. Lumping benefits together doesn’t make them simpler. First, there are the complications built into its design. People can’t tell when they’re entitled, how much for, or when entitlement stops. The amounts of benefit can change suddenly and unpredictably. Second, there is the reliance on technology to fix the problems – tough for those who don’t have the facilities, tougher still when they’re locked down and free sources are cut off. And then, third, there are all the rules – multiple, finely discriminating rules, which turn the process into an obstacle course. Examples are the rules for partners, reporting changes across multiple dimensions, capital rules and managing overpayments. There are too many rules, and too many moving parts.
Comments from Twitter:
You've got me hunting for a homely analogy now. How about saying that the best way for a restaurant to deliver a 6-course meal is to put it all on the same plate? It'll save washing-up.
— Paul Spicker (@PSpicker) December 16, 2020
If you come back more than once a month you get the surplus course menu.
Where even the chef doesn’t know what he’s making.
— Steven mcavoy (@stevenm030) December 16, 2020