The Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) Universal Credit is under the microscope again. This time, a survey of claimants found the benefit left them in chaos. It called the £20 uplift “inadequate”. But the problem is that this isn’t exactly news to the countless people who’ve been struggling on it for years.
The DWP: here we go again
The Canary has been covering Universal Credit during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. A lot of debate has been about the £20 a week uplift. In April 2020, the DWP increased the rate of Universal Credit by this amount. But ever since, uncertainty has existed over what will happen this April. If the Tories end the increase, people will see the DWP cut £20 per week from their money. So far, the Tories have not budged on the issue.
But now, a survey of claimants has found many have been struggling. Most notably, it showed that the £20 a week increase hasn’t made much difference.
Welfare at a (Social) Distance is a research project that’s looked into social security during the pandemic. The Guardian reported the project:
surveyed 6,431 new and existing benefit claimants between May and June, and carried out 74 in-depth interviews between June and September.
The survey’s results were unsurprising.
No surprises here
It found the problems with Universal Credit for new claimants were numerous. The research noted that when they applied for it:
- 37% had problems with the website.
- 28% had problems with the phone process:
Then, while people waited for their first payment, many didn’t apply for the built in advance:
- 28% said it was because they didn’t want to get into debt.
- 9.3% said it was because they hadn’t heard of it:
If people did apply for an advance, the DWP still didn’t leave them with enough money:
- 28% had to borrow from a bank, credit card or other financial institution.
- 28% borrowed money friends:
Also for people who didn’t claim an advance, 42% of them said they either:
- Skipped meals.
- Fell behind on housing costs.
- Didn’t keep up with bills/other debt:
Overall, the DWP hit 41% of new claimants with a deduction, cap, or charge related to their claim:
Where’s the £20 a week gone?
When people did start getting Universal Credit payments, over 50% of new claimants said their income had fallen by more than 25%:
This is while over 50% said their outgoings either stayed the same or increased:
When people were properly on Universal Credit, they said the DWP still didn’t give them enough to live on. For example, almost 5% had to use a foodbank:
Around 62% of people couldn’t even save £10 a month. And roughly the same number wouldn’t have been able to buy something like a fridge if theirs broke:
But these were the “less severe” impacts of the DWP’s level of payments. Over 50% of new claimants said they either:
- Struggled with affording food.
- Couldn’t afford fresh fruit and veg.
- Fell behind on their housing costs.
- Couldn’t keep up with bills/debts:
The hardest hit group? Disabled people:
Dr Kate Summers led the report. She said:
We should think more ambitiously about what ‘success’ means within our social security benefits system. Yes, the benefits system held up through the first wave of the pandemic, but fundamental issues remain in terms of the adequacy of payment levels, and people’s ability to access and understand the system.
Indeed. Because the report paints a damning snapshot of the current situation. But the problems with Universal Credit have been there since the start.
- 25% of people couldn’t complete their claim online.
- 72% of claimants either financially struggled from “time to time” or constantly, fell behind, or were having “real financial difficulties”.
- Around 35% of claimants were in arrears with housing costs.
- About 22% of claimants were struggling with both bills/financial commitments and housing costs.
So, it seems little has changed since then. All the Welfare at a (Social) Distance project’s findings for new claimants include the £20 a week uplift. It’s report said that:
our evidence suggests that even with the £20 uplift, benefit levels are inadequate for many claimants
Campaigning to keep the £20 extra isn’t sufficient. Because it’s barely helping many people at the minute anyway. But moreover, it’s because the UK’s social security system is broken beyond repair. We need a fresh start for the welfare state. £20 a week empty gestures are simply not good enough.