Parliamentary committee says Universal Credit is an attack on the most vulnerable

Dame Anne Begg, chair of the Work and Pensions committee: “We have serious concerns about about how more vulnerable people will cope with the changes, especially the online claims system and the proposed single monthly payment.”

We all know the Department for Work and Pensions is fond of claiming disabled people are “fit for work” when they aren’t. Another thing that isn’t fit for work is its flagship Universal Credit system.

The new system will start to come into effect with pilot schemes in the northwest of England in April 2013, and full national roll-out is due to start in October 2013. But a report from the Parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee says it should not progress before it addresses serious issues.

We know this won’t happen. Iain Duncan Smith is far more interested in getting a flawed system out on time than in getting it right, and Universal Credit is already seriously behind schedule, no matter what the David Cameron said in PMQs yesterday. But the report means he cannot say he was unaware of the problems.

“The Committee notes that the Government has set a very ambitious timetable for Universal Credit implementation and expresses concern about whether there will be sufficient time for the Government to learn from its pilots and whether it is desirable or necessary to implement so many changes at once,” the report states.

The committee is chaired by Dame Anne Begg, who added: “We have serious concerns about how more vulnerable people will cope with the changes, especially the online claims system and the proposed single monthly payment. Some claimants will not be able to make an online claim and others may struggle to adapt to monthly payments.”

Measures to help these claimants may be hard to access and too slow in identifying them, meaning they could fall into debt and hardship before any extra support – and none has been identified – can be applied.

The committee says vulnerable claimants will be unable to manage plans to pay rent costs to the claimant, rather than the landlord, and may fall into arrears. Appropriate “safety net” arrangements need to be developed and tested – there aren’t any at the moment. And there should be an option to continue with payments to the landlord instead – again, no such option exists in the new system.

Nor is there any process to identify claimants who are struggling to manage their housing costs, meaning the government will offer no help to them before they fall into arrears and face eviction.

There is no evidence to show that Universal Credit will provide more generous support for disabled people, despite this being a stated aim.

Some disabled people will have their entitlement reduced under Universal Credit. Transitional protection will mean that they do not lose in cash terms immediately, but this protection will erode over time, will be lost if their circumstances change, and is not available to new claimants.

Income calculation is complicated so I’ll quote the report directly:

“The Government plans to calculate monthly Universal Credit payments by using information about claimants’ employment earnings taken from data feeds from HMRC’s new Real Time Information (RTI) system, which is being introduced to administer PAYE taxation. The Committee comments that whilst Ministers are confident that RTI will be delivered on time to support Universal Credit, tax, accountancy and business organisation raised a range of specific concerns about the RTI programme, and the Committee did not receive satisfactory responses from DWP and HMRC about these issues.

“The Committee welcomes the Government’s efforts to simplify the provision of information on income by the self-employed, but shares the concerns of witnesses that the proposed system could impose a significant and unnecessary burden on the self-employed. It is also concerned that the proposed Minimum Income Floor rules could act as a disincentive to entrepreneurship.”

It’s a government IT scheme; it won’t work and we all know it.

Dame Anne Begg said: “There appears to be no contingency if the IT system doesn’t work.”

See what I mean?

The report also warns that essential elements of support are not in place. Additional resources are needed by the advice sector – such as Citizens Advice – to cope with a “significant increase in demand”.

We know this will not be forthcoming. The idea is to push people off benefits. If they get advice about how to apply correctly, this won’t happen. Advice services will be starved.

Significantly, when considered in tandem with my article on the Universal Jobmatch system, the committee attacked the sanctions regime employed by the DWP. In the report, the committee said it “believes it is essential that DWP supports claimants in the job-search and that the support available to each claimant is clearly set out and actually provided.”

Meaning: it isn’t at the moment.

The sanction system also gets a hammering: “There is little evidence that they strengthen work incentives on their own.”

The arrangements for passporting benefits, such as free school meals, are attacked as unclear: “The entitlement criteria have a significant impact on decisions about returning to work or increasing working hours… It is essential for the Government to put fair and workable criteria in place… A clear indication is now needed on the arrangements.”

In other words, fair and workable criteria are not in place at the moment.

Liam Byrne MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, poured scorn on the scheme: “Two and a half years in, the Government doesn’t seem to have a clue about the big questions it’s got to get right,” he said.

“If ministers don’t wake up and get a grip soon, then Universal Credit is going to continue its rapid descent into universal chaos, spelling disaster for millions of Britain’s families.”

Dame Anne recommended Paul Lewis for his commentary on the report. He said: “Online applications only, no paper forms. But 11 million adults have no internet at home. Support for them not clear. Disability benefits to change again as means tested help moved to UC. Over 400,000 to get less, but total remains same.

“Rent paid to individual, not landlord for almost everyone. Major change and hard to manage by most vulnerable, say MPs.”

In other words, this system should be put ESA as it is not “fit for work”.

Perhaps it should go in the ‘work-related activity’ group? Maybe after a year of hard work getting itself up to fitness, it might be serviceable. But I doubt it.

And that begs the question: If the DWP can’t get its own scheme – meant to simplify the system – workable within a year, how can it expect people to coax their disabled bodies into good condition within the same period?


  1. Smiling Carcass November 22, 2012 at 2:58 pm - Reply

    Even if it worked, it would likely be insecure. Govt IT schemes are notoriously lacking in professionalism.

  2. Jill. November 22, 2012 at 5:03 pm - Reply

    I really fear for this country. Can you imagine the amount of ID fraud there’s going to be. It’s going to be more than chaos. People are going to be killing themselves because they can’t get things sorted out and no money and no where to go to get it done.

    • Eric Greenwood (4727) November 22, 2012 at 5:58 pm - Reply

      They will be None People. and since they have no rights, no money, anything can be done to them,

  3. william hawkins November 22, 2012 at 5:51 pm - Reply

    All new “initiatives” are about one thing, reducing the money that the poor and vulnerable get, ignoring the commitment and deeds they have shown this country either in their employment, fighting wars, emergency services, charitable work and their NI contributions and income taxes paid over an average of 45 years of work, in which they have paid over and over again for any benefit or NHS care etc. The wealthy have paid little or nothing into the austerity solution, and want for nothing. Those earning £50K are still bleating about child benefit when others cannot afford to heat and eat resulting in 20,000 elderly dying of hypothermia in 2010 and projected at 25,000 this year. The imbalance is horrendous and is un-abating as excuse after excuse is found to criminalise the disabled etc and cut even more benefits. Hackers are going to have a field day with the new benefits system and the elderly will remain totally confused and unaware, for them contact with humans is becoming more and more remote as is the ability to address any problems.

  4. Eric Greenwood (4727) November 22, 2012 at 5:56 pm - Reply

    Oh they are already cutting back on CAB. They have cut other parts as well

  5. Phillip Richards November 22, 2012 at 8:30 pm - Reply

    The Con/Dems are just that, condemning the vulnerably to a non life no money no work and no benefits, is what IDS is heading for and he will use everything in his power to get it, and we the disabled will suffer. that’s not going to Happen, this Country is not going to stand by and let it, we did not ask nor want to be Disabled, we should be looked after and not cast out like trash, or left to commit Suicide, but if they do,”The blood will be on the hand of the Government” but we can not do this on our own,we need are MPs on side to take on this Government,so get hold of your MPs and let them know what you thing about this Policy,do it,One day it could be YOU, thing about that for a minute,yes we are all fallible and not Super Heroes, we can all fall ILL ,and need help from the state,let keep it that way.

  6. Russel Clarke November 23, 2012 at 12:39 am - Reply

    I predict a……

  7. Darroch November 23, 2012 at 8:35 am - Reply

    The Universal Credit system will never happen. Something will chance but I bet the end result will be a paper based rather than an online system. And, honestly, how can anybody spend 7 hours a day “actively seeking work” when they can only go online at their local library – until the local council closes it – for an hour a day? What can they do to search for work offline for six hours a day without a telephone or internet access? Put on sandwich boards with “Please offer me a job” on them and march around the town in all weathers? Come on folks. The proposed system is impossible because no one will ever be able to satisfy its demands and therefore everybody will end up getting sanctioned and be made homeless.

    • Smiling Carcass November 25, 2012 at 5:03 am - Reply

      The fact is expecting people to jobsearch for 35 hours a week, or seven hours a day is ridiculous.

      From experience, I know that once you have done an online jobsearch, spending perhaps 2 or 3 hours then you can do a thorough online search in one hour.

      This is because few new jobs come up on a daily basis; even though I did my jobsearches at home, at my weekly ‘interview’ with an advisor I was made to do another hour jobsearch, looking at exactly the same jobs, writing nothing down and used only the results of my home search as evidence. I continued to do my jobsearches at home on principle; each week I would say I had done so, here are the applications I have made and each week they’d say you’ve got to do one here as well.

      It is just a backdoor way of being able to say you are not doing enough to seek work, we’re sanctioning you.

  8. Jane Walters November 26, 2012 at 11:16 am - Reply

    As soon as you sign unemployed the bullying and threats begin. If you dont do as you are told (like a detention centre) you stand to lose your home by being sanctioned. You are lied to by the staff at JCP who trick you into making mistakes or going for so called interviews that are 3 day courses on job skills, which you don’t need. The way they talk to you and treat you is like you have done something wrong. I wrote to my MP about the treatment I received at the JCP and nothing was done about it.
    The goverment is killing people by booting people off benefits when they are not fit for work, and they should be tried and convicted for murdering people, along with the rest of the crooks, the bankers and all the other people who are making profit out of the system, like those employers who are making huge profits out of paying people less wages than they need to live on. The media are keeping quiet about people’s outrage and condoning this with a conspiracy of silence about what is going on. The more people who are kept ignorant the more the government can get away with.
    This cannot continue for much longer because as poor people get hungrier and more and more people lose their lives or their homes the more chance there is of people taking matters into their own hands.

  9. redjediknight February 13, 2013 at 2:54 am - Reply

    Having recently stopped volunteering for Citizens Advice to return to work.
    One thing is clear they’re just as underprepared as the Coalition not due to inompetence but struggling to keep up.with demand at present.
    However Citizens Advice HQ have had a in place to develop.and train.branchs.
    But with funding going to the wall, staff made redundant and volunteers to be hounded by Universal Credit then you have a scheme thats going to collapse.

  10. redjediknight February 13, 2013 at 2:58 am - Reply

    This toff government is really in for a rude awakeing.

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