The cross-party Work and Pensions select committee (WPSC) has urged the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to take urgent action. MPs warned that Universal Credit claimants could be left “destitute” if the DWP fails to act.
Universal Credit is the DWP’s flagship welfare payment. It combines six old means-tested benefits, including tax credits. From the outset, it’s been dogged by controversy. From a damning National Audit Office report to its links with increased foodbank use and rent arrears, the benefit has already caused difficulty for millions of people.
A pilot scheme for a process called “managed migration” starts in July 2019. This is the first stage in moving all claimants onto the controversial benefit. But the committee warned that the DWP must “prove it is up to the job” before starting this pilot. It also raised serious concerns that the DWP has not acted on recommendations from “its own expert advisory council”.
The report noted that the DWP:
expects to transfer three million people in two million households to Universal Credit through managed migration, including some of the most vulnerable people in society. This is a huge operational and logistical challenge, with significant risks… [I]t is impossible to overstate the importance of getting managed migration right.
But the committee criticised ministers for “refusing to implement recommendations” ahead of the pilot. According to the committee, the DWP failed to give any “convincing reason why it won’t accept these expert recommendations”. It also warned that without proper preparation, Universal Credit may “plunge people further into poverty and could leave them destitute”.
“More challenging areas”
Another key concern flagged by this report is that the pilot is set to take place in Harrogate. Work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd claimed that there was “nowhere better” for the pilot because it’s “home to a mix of benefit claimants with a varying range of needs”
But as the committee said, this is actually an area with “relatively low levels of deprivation”. So it asked vital questions.
Firstly, how will the DWP assess this fact when it evaluates the pilot? And most importantly, how will it test the managed migration process “in more challenging areas” before the national Universal Credit roll out?
“We are talking about people”
As committee chair Frank Field said, the DWP must listen to this report because “we are talking about people”, not numbers. He continued:
Anyone who sees their income slashed or their circumstances and life chances reduced, or any of the other messes UC [Universal Credit] is getting people across this land into, will find no comfort in learning it didn’t happen on purpose. Does DWP want to explain to them it didn’t bother to find out how they might be affected?
A DWP spokesperson told The Canary:
The WPSC welcomed our pilot approach to moving people to Universal Credit from the old benefit system. We are taking a slow and measured approach, and will return to Parliament before increasing the number of people moving onto the benefit.
We have a proven track record of delivering major programmes of change as safely as possible. In the last year we have successfully moved 250,000 people from Universal Credit live service to full service. More than 1.8 million households are now supported by Universal Credit.
The committee set out a series of tests that it insisted the DWP must “adopt, as a minimum”. Ahead of the national managed migration rollout, these tests are designed to protect people on crucial issues including: “payment timeliness… claimant satisfaction… [and] financial duress”. It also set out specific tests for the most “vulnerable claimants”. But whether it will listen and follow these recommendations remains to be seen.
In 2018, Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty, stated that poverty in the UK is a “political choice” of the ruling Conservative Party. He also claimed that Universal Credit “is fast falling into Universal Discredit”. This has tragic implications for too many people.
As The Canary has documented for some time, Universal Credit is damaging lives. It has already forced people to use food banks and made others homeless. It’s now very clear that Universal Credit pushes people further into poverty. And if the DWP fails to take action on this report, it looks set to push even more people into destitution.
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