The Institute for Public Policy Research report on Universal Credit, and Paul Spicker’s review

The Institute for Public Policy Research has published a new report, Social (in)security: Reforming the UK’s social safety net.

The concept behind universal credit (UC) – that integrating working-age benefits would lead to a simpler, less bureaucratic system – was once supported by broad political consensus. However, the resulting policy and its implementation has alienated many, with universal credit’s misplaced attempt to mimic the workplace through a monthly assessment and payment that bears no relation to the way those on low incomes are paid, and an array of design features that seem designed to punish rather than support. For too many, it is a tightrope over poverty, not a social safety net. …

To read the report, click here.

Paul Spicker has published a review of the report.

A report from the IPPR is critical of Universal Credit.  The report focuses on a series of features about UC which are causing problems. They include

  • the five-week wait
  • monthly payments
  • the two-child rule
  • the benefit cap
  • the high taper rate
  • the level of benefit
  • joint payments
  • sanctions and conditionality
  • the management of ‘debt’ to the system.

What’s striking in this list is that only one of those features – monthly payments, linked to monthly assessments – is integral to the design of the benefit.  All of the others have been tacked on, like decorations on a Xmas tree.  But UC has other, built-in flaws – problems that exist because of what the benefit is.  They include

  • the attempt to lump disparate benefits together, with the effect that problems in one part can lead to catastrophic suspension of the whole
  • the dismantling of the support system for Housing Benefits
  • the unpredictable and fluctuating benefit entitlement, exacerbated by the idea that assessments relate to income now rather than historic income
  • the very idea of a taper, which means that people cannot know when they become entitled to a benefit and when they cease to be entitled – a recurring problem with Housing Benefit and Tax Credits
  • the obsession with entry or re-entry to work, when the vast majority of intended claimants will not be part of the labour market
  • the implications of the ‘work allowance’, set too low to allow for continuous contact, and
  • the idea that technology, rather than competent administration, can settle complex human problems.

The IPPR are right to complain that this is “a tightrope over poverty, not a social safety net”.   But they don’t go anything like far enough.