The announcement of modifications to Universal Credit in the Budget fall a little short of what is needed. Para 6.14 outlines proposed changes:
- advances on entitlements for those ‘in need’ – effectively an interest free loan repayable over twelve months. UC will continue to be paid in arrears.
- the reduction of waiting time by 7 days; it will still be 5 weeks for most claimants.
- continuation of Housing Benefit for two weeks. That should reduce rent arrears by two weeks – it is not enough to ensure continuous payment.
- ‘easier’ arrangements for payment of rent to landlords.
- a slower roll out, still to be completed by December 2018; and
- a limited trial of ‘innovative” approaches to improve earnings.
What the proposals didn’t include was
- a review of tapers
- a review of work allowances – the current allowances are too low to lead to continuity of contact
- a review of the treatment of children
- pause and fix, or
- any announcement of measures to deal with the administrative problems.
Para 6.12 and 6.13 defend the system’s design. The government evidently thinks that the scheme is okay because people on it are working, and that if there are residual problems it’s because people are not getting out and working. They haven’t realised that most of the people on working age benefits, and so most of the people the scheme is going to deal with in due course, are unable to work, and most of the rest are working already. (Universal Credit should ultimately be there for 6 to 7 million people; only 1.4 to 1.5 million of them are ‘unemployed’, that is not working and available to work.) The roll-out of Universal Credit began by focusing on a particular category of claimant, mainly younger single applicants; but as the scheme expands, more and more of the people who are being dealt with will be in other categories. That’s why problems such as self-employment or telling people who are working to come in to the office are only really emerging now. The scheme is not so much ‘unfit for purpose’ as directed to the wrong purposes – and that means that no amount of reinforcement is ever going to make it appropriate to people’s needs.