By James Colwell
Universal Credit has been one of the most significant welfare reforms since the introduction of the social security system almost 60 years ago. When proposed under the coalition Government, Universal Credit sought to amalgamate six Legacy Benefits, in to one central benefit with various components administered digitally.
Following its initial proposal, successive Tory budgets, driven by austerity and cuts have changed the initial proposal of Universal Credit into a benefit which has led to a massive reduction in support to claimants from all cross-sections of society. This, coupled with an adoption of a hostile view of those wishing to access the benefit system and perpetuated by sensationalisation of benefit claimants, has led to the introduction of an environment that is suspicious towards claimants. The difference in the policy now to what was initially proposed can be evidenced in its clunky and flawed roll-out, along with mis-advice and a total lack of support from the Department for Work and Pensions has led to many claimants being forced into poverty and debt as a result of this benefit. Therefore, it is time that Universal Credit is scrapped.
In assessing the viability of Universal Credit, it must be considered how a reform once proposed to support claimants and ensure they are able to navigate the rabbit warren that is the social security in an easier and more supportive way, has become far from that. This is because of numerous factors, including the scrapping of the Severe Disability Premium, the 6-8 week assessment and waiting phase to be paid the benefit, the introduction of a discriminatory two child limit, the skyrocketing of rent arrears, a complete lack of support from the DWP, as well as the system being digital by default. These problems are some of the few catalysts for wider spread support in calling for Universal Credit’s demise. However, one of the most fundamental issues has been the sheer lack of support to claimants through no fault of their own, other than the Governments false rooted ideological drive to cut the benefit bill.
Due to Universal Credit being so ideologically driven, it is simply not good enough to say that it can be paused and fixed, as a system which has such deep rooted ideological principles at its core cannot be reformed. It is important to recognise that Universal Credit, arguably could have once been saved, if, when concern from claimants, advice sector, trade unions, MPs and charities (to name but a few of the vocal critics expressing genuine concerns) as far back as 2015 were listened to by the Government, and the crisis we are facing now could have been avoided. Instead, these criticisms were not listened to and were branded ‘scaremongering’ by the DWP and Government- they simply did not want to listen.
Yet, if concerns were heeded that Universal Credit would impact adversity on disabled people, then the High Court would not have had to intervene in June 2018 in branding Universal Credit as ‘discriminatory’. If the detrimental effects of cutting the work allowances of Universal Credit of thousands of families in work were addressed, then Esther McVey would not be briefing Cabinet that millions of families could lose upwards of £200.00 a month. Finally if concerns were heeded to about the impact of the discriminatory two child limit rule then the Child Poverty Action Group would not be preparing to appeal this at the Court of Appeal. However, due to the Governments reluctance to listen and reform, we are in now a position where the only possible course of action is to scrap Universal Credit.
Much of the issues with the benefit are not related to economics, but are deep rooted administrative issues grounded in the policy itself (this is evident from the three issues highlighted above). Because Universal Credit now is flawed to its very core, simply pausing the roll-out to reform would lead to only piecemeal change and a chase-injection into a system that is so broken it needs to be overhauled. In addition, the Government simply cannot roll-out a test and learn process which is deploying discriminatory practices on some of the most vulnerable in society. Universal Credit needs to be scrapped alongside a complete top-down review to look at alternatives to the benefit, conducted by listening to claimants and advice agencies to build a social security system that is truly reflective to every claimants needs and that seeks to provide support.
I believe it is fundamental that a well functioning society is able to care for those who are vulnerable, unfit for work, disabled or maybe have fallen on difficult times, which Universal Credit is unable to do. To reform is to prolong the systemic issues that Universal Credit brings with it and therefore, the only viable course to ensure an ethical social security system is to scrap Universal Credit.