The report focuses on the steps that need to be taken for these people, rather than just the majority of people, by the government before introducing universal credit, and says that the time scale to introduce the new system is too ambitious.
Making the whole system online is a big risk to vulnerable people, and means that some vulnerable people will have difficulty in accessing their benefit entitlement because they do not know how to make a claim.
The committee is concerned that DWP has not provided information about how this issue will be addressed.
Disabled People Worse Off
The government originally promised that universal credit will provide more generous support for disabled adults and children, but the report shows that they are likely to be worse off after payments they receive presently will be removed in the new system. The committee asks the government to stick to their promises and ensure that disabled people do not lose benefits they are entitled to.
Advice and Support
They are also concerned that they have not accommodated for the additional advice services that will be required to help with the integration of the new system. To make the transition successful for people who need extra help, they need to ensure that these advice resources are readily available.
Although the report gives merit to Universal Credit for the concept as it will prepare unemployed for work in theory, this will not work as well in practice. There is an ‘exceptions’ process set up to help vulnerable people who struggle to manage finances, but this will only be apparent after they have experienced problems; this is a big risk to play with peoples money that they rely on to survive.
Payments going directly to tenants, who will then pay their landlords, is likely to cause a lot of problems for both landlords and tenants particularly in social housing. The pilot schemes have already experienced having to take tenants to court to get their payments, and the committee urge the government to delay the introduction of universal credit until the six pilots have had a thorough evaluation and found solutions, then implemented gradually with adequate support set up for vulnerable people, rather than rushing ahead to meet the ambitious deadline they have set. The other problem for this is one person per household receives the money, therefore it is likely that women will lose out.. This issue has not been looked in to or addressed yet.
Local Council Tax Support
Universal Credit implementation is taking place at the same time as the introduction of a system of local council tax support to replace Council Tax Benefit, and the report thinks it will undermine the objectives of Universal Credit. It will remove the ability of claimants being able to see the financial benefits of taking up a job or working more hours. It will sit outside Universal Credit and is being introduced in combination with a 10% reduction in funding. It contradicts the aim of simplifying the benefits system and risks adding complexity to earnings incentives.
The overall conclusion is that the timetable is too rushed to make the necessary changes before implementation, and will have a negative impact on vulnerable people if this is not re-assessed.
There are some positive changes to universal credit, but it has been obvious to most of us for a while, and is made very clear in the committee report, that if the government don’t make adaptions to the universal credit to help out vulnerable people, then it will undermine all of it’s own intentions.
The report concludes with:
The Government should reflect on the possible consequences of the scale of the proposed change for some of the most vulnerable people in society and, if those consequences cannot be adequately addressed, should consider modifying its implementation timescale accordingly.
The Government has indicated that it expects to lay the Regulations to implement Universal Credit before Parliament in December.
We hope it will take full account of the concerns raised in this report in finalising the detailed arrangements for delivering Universal Credit which it plans to set out in the Regulations.
Dame Anne Begg MP, who will launch the report later today, said:
We recognise that the new Universal Credit system is likely to be accessible to the majority of claimants, but 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.
A spokesman for the Child Poverty Action Group said:
Ministers risk a ‘told you so’ moment in the future if they ignore this constructive warning that the tight timetable and sheer scale of implementation are threatening to get in the way of universal credit delivering on its promises to simplify benefits, make work pay and protect the vulnerable.
The government must listen to warnings from the committee’s MPs that localisation of council tax benefit will undermine the improved work incentives intended to be achieved by universal credit.