What is Universal Credit?
Universal Credit aims to replace six existing benefits with one single payment, making access to social security payments less complicated and to support people into work. It has been rolled out initially in parts of Scotland and is due to be introduced in full across the country by the end of 2018, starting in October this year. It is projected that when full service rollout is complete in 2022, there will be 652,500 households in Scotland claiming Universal Credit.
What’s the issue with it?
Evidence from Citizens Advice Bureaux in initial roll-out areas in Scotland (and elsewhere in the UK) has shown that the reality of Universal Credit risks leaving many people in Scotland without the support they need, pushing them into debt and leaving them unable to make ends meet. There are serious design and delivery problems: the long wait for payments (six weeks) at the beginning of the Universal Claim process is a particular cause of issues. Many people are also finding the system very complicated, making it harder to focus on getting into work rather than easier.
Talking about the problems with the new benefit, Citizens Advice Scotland Chair, Rory Mair, said: “For too many people, a system that is intended to support them through difficult times is making their situation much worse. Families are falling into debt and rent arrears and having to turn to foodbanks just to survive. These issues simply must be addressed before anyone else is affected. The government needs to do more to reduce how long people have to wait for payments and to improve the support available. We are today calling for a pause in the accelerated roll-out of Universal Credit, so that these problems can be fixed before more families find themselves in crisis.”
What kind of impact are bureaux in Scotland seeing?
Already, evidence in initial roll out areas shows that since Universal Credit was introduced bureaux have seen a 15% rise in rent arrears issues compared to a national decrease of 2%, an 87% increase in Crisis Grant issues compared to a national increase of 9%, and two of five bureaux in impacted areas have seen a 40% and a 70% increase in advice about access to food banks advice, compared to a national increase of 3%.
Rory Mair continued: “Citizens Advice Bureaux are uniquely placed to see how changes like this affect people, and in all of the initial rollout areas the evidence is clear: Universal Credit has major delivery and design flaws which risk hurting families instead of helping them. These include long waits for payments that push people into crisis and debt, all while battling a highly complicated process with little support.”
What do we want to see happen?
Citizens Advice Scotland has always supported the principles behind Universal Credit. We firmly believe that simplifying access to benefits for those who need them is critical. However, we and the service as a whole in Scotland have been monitoring the impact of Universal Credit closely, and we are very concerned. We are calling for the accelerated rollout of Universal Credit to be paused until the design and delivery problems with it have been addressed.