Universal Credit Too Dangerous to Continue
Jemma Crew / KJM Today Opinion
May 9, 2020.
Writing for the Evening Standard, Jemma Crew reports that more than 20 charities have urged the Government not to resume moving people receiving older benefits on to Universal Credit unless it can guarantee nobody’s income will be cut off during the cost-of-living crisis.
Groups have written to Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey warning that plans to move legacy benefit claimants on to the new system are “too dangerous to continue”. They say the incomes of more than 700,000 people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and dementia could be put at risk, and that the consequences of having benefits halted could be “devastating and life-threatening”.
In a written statement submitted to the House of Commons on April 25, Ms Coffey said she is “absolutely committed to making this a responsible and safe transition”.
The process was paused during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government now hopes to phase everyone on to the new system by the end of 2024. From today, the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) will restart “managed migration” of people on benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Working Tax Credit on to the new system. The DWP’s plans could however, leave people with mental health problems with no income; those too unwell to engage with the DWP could be left unable to pay their rent, buy food, or pay their rising energy bills. Claimants will be given a minimum of three months’ notice that they need to make a Universal Credit claim and given the number for a helpline.
The charities said that if people do not apply by the deadline, the DWP will be able to stop their existing claim. They also said it is “unacceptable” that the Government will trial the process using 500 people as “guinea pigs”.
In the letter to Ms Coffey, the groups wrote: “We believe that your approach for moving people receiving older benefits on to Universal Credit risks pushing many of them into destitution.
“We ask you to consider the devastating consequences for someone who faces challenges in engaging with the process having their only income cut off, especially during this cost-of-living crisis.”
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind and a signatory to the letter, said: “The DWP’s managed migration plans could leave people with mental health problems with no income.
“Those too unwell to engage with the DWP could be left unable to pay their rent, buy food, or pay their rising energy bills. During a cost-of-living crisis, this could put the entire incomes of over 700,000 people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and dementia at risk. This is completely unacceptable.
“The DWP should halt this process until they can guarantee they will not stop anyone’s old benefits until they have successfully made a claim to Universal Credit.”
He said the department must take responsibility for helping people navigate the “complicated system”.
DWP research from 2018 showed that almost a quarter of people with long-term health conditions could not register a claim for Universal Credit online, while 53% said they needed more support setting up the claim.
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Thérèse Coffey (pictured left) said: "Over five million people are already supported by Universal Credit. It is a dynamic system which adjusts as people earn more or indeed less, and simplifies our safety net for those who cannot work. Parliament voted to end the complex web of six legacy benefits in 2012, and as this work approaches its conclusion we are fully transitioning to a modern benefit, suited to the 21st century."
“Roughly 1.4 million people on legacy benefits would be better off on Universal Credit, with top up payments available for eligible claimants whose Universal Credit entitlement is less.”
© Jemma Crew 2022
Universal Credit (UC) is not actually a bad idea. Under the last Labour government, the benefits system had indeed become a massive, unwieldy behemoth that ordinary people found at best, hard to deal with and at worst, an unresponsive nightmare that left people with no money.
The concept of 'no money' is often equally difficult to comprehend for those who are fortunate enough never to have had to deal with the DWP. So let me try and put it plainly; no money means...well...no money. That's no money for food, water, light, heat - no money for anything. At all.
It means just what it says:
Both the DWP and the benefits system remain as hard to use as ever. To give the Conservatives a little credit, they have at least, tried to do something and the idea of rolling all the various benefits into one monthly payment is, as I said, not a bad one. The problem however, is that like all government-led ideas, delivery has proved flawed. And when those flaws are exacerbated by a state agency like the DWP, it gets even worse.
The DWP seems to think that its primary purpose is to stop paying people and it does so at the drop of a hat. It always has done, including under its previous names; not for nothing was it once known as the Department of Stealth and Total Obscurity (instead of the correct title, the Department of Health and Social Security).
To add to the nefarious abilities the department has, then-Chancellor George Osborne, under whom Universal Credit was introduced, added an extra week to the four weeks plus one administration week that were already in place between the last legacy benefit payment and the first UC payment - that meant six weeks...with no money.
At least the Tories then did away with Osborne's extra week but that still means five weeks with no money. Why?
It should not be beyond the wit of any politician to demand a seamless transition from one benefit to another, with an additional extra amount to cover the missing weeks (moving from a two-weekly payment to a monthly payment).
And why on earth does an existing claimant, already in receipt of benefits, have to make a new claim? It makes no sense. Neither does the experience of so many in finding that the amount of money they receive under UC is less than it was previously.
Universal Credit can work - by rolling all benefits in to one (including housing benefit) and paying this on the same date each month, can indeed make a transition into work easier for countless numbers of people. But the government, and for that matter the opposition also, have to stop the DWP from being the inhumane monstrosity it is and make the delivery of UC more practical.
© Kevan James 2022.