Universal Credit rolls out, despite the problems

Brexit has used up all the oxygen of political debate.  There are few proposed changes in policy for real life, but it’s important to realise that while all this has been going on politically, Universal Credit has been rolling out.  David Webster’s invaluable briefings on sanctions also tell us a lot about the process.

  • 1.3 million people are now on Universal Credit.  (The November figures make that more than 1.4m.)  With more than 100,000 new recipients each month, the numbers are increasing rapidly – even if it will still take four or five more years at that rate to reach the target figures.
  • 580,000 of the UC claimants are unemployed.  339,000 unemployed claimants are still in receipt of JSA.  That means that UC is now the main source of support for unemployed people.
  • 190,000 UC claimants are working.

That leaves 530,000 others to account for.  Most benefits for people of working age are there, not for unemployed people, but other people of working age.  As the numbers receiving UC continue to grow, that must mean that progressively higher proportions of people who are sick, or otherwise out of the labour market, will be receiving UC instead.  But the whole focus of UC, such as the requirement for people to form a claimant agreement with ‘work coaches’, is on the very small minority of people who are unemployed and unlikely to find work in their own right.  That can only mean that problems of UC get worse.

5 thoughts on “Universal Credit rolls out, despite the problems”

  1. The figures are interesting; i.e. even if the DWP place “managed migration” on an indefinite holding pattern, the process of new claims and “natural migration” will “capture” 100,000 new recipients each month. Unlike existing legacy benefit claimants, “new” UC claimants don’t have the “before and after” comparison of how much money they have lost etc. Consequently, from an administrative and political perspective, the govt may decide that if it “soft pedals” on “managed migration” for a while then it will still (eventually) achieve its objectives but with less negative political hassle? By comparison, if they had adopted this “gradualist” approach with the Bedroom Tax (i.e. applying HB restrictions only to new HB claims rather than all existing HB claimants under 65) the political reaction would have been muted? If my speculation is correct, then potentially the “legacy” and UC systems could co-exist for many years (which has happened before in welfare reform programmes but not on the same scale)? I would further speculate that even if Labour won a General Election (and/or if Scotland was granted full control over UC) there would be no immediate change to the above scenario as whilst opposition parties have clamoured “to stop UC” they have not actually articulated in detailed terms what that would mean (other than postponing indefinitely “managed migration”)?

    1. There is an important difference between JSA and ESA. A considerable majority of JSA claims last less than a year; after three or four years the numbers of people who will still have a consecutive claim is very small indeed. The high proportion of unemployed claims in receipt of UC reflects that position. ESA, by contrast, has many long term claimants – more than a third have been on the benefit for more than ten years – and migration has to be brought about through conscious intervention, and that process can be expected to be painful. UC is now the benefit received by most unemplyed people, but it would still be feasible and practical to confine UC to people who are unemployed.

      1. Agreed. If they want to make significant savings on ESA then at some point the govt will have to start managed migration to UC on a large scale which as you say will create a great deal of hardship. The “sick & disabled” category has slightly more public/political support than the “unemployed” but still less so, I would suggest than, the “hard working families/tax credits” category which is the group which most politicians seem to be concerned about (hence the modest changes announced by Chancellor). As ever, we will just have to wait and see how the government (in the latest personification of Amber Rudd) chooses to proceed in 2019 and beyond? Food Banks will continue to get busier, that’s a given.

  2. I was pleased to see you put inverted commas around ‘work coaches’.

    The title is a joke. Or would be if it was amusing.

  3. I cannot see why it is deemed necessary (other than as a wilfully punitive measure) to create a gap of at least five weeks and anecdotally much longer in some cases in the ‘migration’ process.

    Even if the five week target is met, I would suggest that most working families even with good levels of income would be hard pressed to manage without income for a period of five weeks. The monthly outgoings of mortgage, utility bills, credit card payments. council tax and put most families into arrears.

    To inflict this sort of additional financial pressure onto people already in financial dire straits is incredible in a supposedly civilised society.

    And yet it carries on with barely a murmur from the opposition. If our politicians had to ride shortfall in their salary beyond the month end there would be a deafening outcry. Remember the hullabaloo when their expenses reimbursements were held up in the aftermath of the moat-cleaning fiasco.

    There is no empathy in our politicians. No common humanity. They are (for the most part) too far insulated, by being on the their basic salary alone, firmly into the top ten percent of earners. They have become totally divorced from the reality of the lives of the people they purportedly represent, apparently. And they will almost all have access to credit at modest rates without recourse to the sort of loan sharks who ply their trade amongst the near-destitute where interest rates are extortionate. Really extortionate.

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