What is happening to Universal Credit and will it affect me?
Digital team's blog
Universal Credit has been appearing in the news more frequently with talk of 'delayed rollouts' and 'welfare reform' taking up space in the headlines. Trying to cut through what this actually mean to those of us claiming benefits can be difficult. Our Social Policy Manager - Jonathan Moore, explains what's going on.
By now most people will have heard of Universal Credit and most of the things they have heard will probably have been negative. Rent arrears rising. Food bank use increasing. So far though, the roll out of Universal Credit has been limited, so unless you live in certain parts of the country the chances are that these problems are something that will affect others, rather than you or the people you love.
The reason that Universal Credit has received so much attention in recent weeks is because it is set to change. The ‘Managed Migration’ regulations will be debated in Parliament in the next few weeks. These will determine how around 2 million people will move from the current benefit system (known as ‘legacy’ benefits) to Universal Credit between summer 2019 and 2023.
But the term ‘managed migration’ is misleading. It suggests that people will be moved from one system to another system automatically. This is not the case. After receiving a letter from the Department of Work and Pensions, claimants will have as little as one month to navigate the complicated process of moving on to Universal Credit.
If you don’t reply in that time, your payments can stop altogether. That means that the prospect of struggling people being left with no financial support is very real. When the difficulties of moving to Universal Credit are combined with the challenges of living with mental health illness, it is inevitable that some people will fall through the net.
In the areas where people are already claiming Universal Credit, 25% of claims have gone unpaid for reasons unknown to the Department for Work and Pensions. If a comparable proportion of people don’t receive any payments as the roll-out of Universal Credit continues at the pace the Government currently envisage, the impact could be catastrophic. To make matters worse, the most vulnerable claimants have yet to be affected. When the roll-out begins to affect Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants (people too unwell to work), those people will be affected in huge numbers.
Understanding the exact numbers of people living with a mental illness who will be affected by the managed migration is complex. Around 2 million people will be affected, but we don’t yet know which areas of the country, or which people, will be included in the process or how. This will be determined at a later date.
What we do know is that nearly 800,000 people with ‘mental and behavioural disorders’ are currently in the Employment and Support Allowance Support Group and are too unwell to take part in any work-related activity whatsoever (Stat Xplore, ESA caseload by medical condition and phase of ESA claim, Feb 2018). Many of those will be people living with severe and enduring mental health conditions. They too will be included in the migration process.
There has been talk recently about additional funding being put into Universal Credit and of course this would be welcome if it addresses the specific needs of people living with mental illness. There are also broader problems with Universal Credit, such as the five week wait for a claimant to receive their first payment, the need to complete and manage claims online, and the early application of conditionality.
Fundamentally, we don’t believe that the roll-out of Universal Credit can proceed until the prospect of payments being stopped altogether has been removed. This mechanism would have an unacceptable and devastating impact on many people living with mental illness, and the roll-out must be paused until this and other critical issues are addressed.
If you've got any questions on Universal Credit for Jonathan then you can send them through to us via our social media channels. We'll answer these in a podcast, next Friday.
For further reading see:
Universal Credit: the honesty we owe and the changes we need
Universal credit: who gains, who loses, and how does transitional protection really work?
Helping people with Universal Credit: Independent, tailored support to make an initial claim
Universal Credit: Chancellor pressured over welfare system
What’s it like living on universal credit?