Universal Credit rules limit training opportunities, report says

Universal Credit conditionality is often at odds with the government's 'levelling up' aspirations, report says.

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According to a recent analysis from the Work Foundation, the conditionality criteria that Universal Credit (UC) recipients are required to meet can considerably hinder their capacity to participate in training.

These commitments also intersect with a variety of personal situations that individuals receiving UC will have, such as childcare or caring responsibilities, which can again present barriers to training and development activities.

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Through qualitative interviews with individuals interested in training and receiving UC, this study aimed to determine how the welfare system influences access to training possibilities.

Some of the individuals with whom the Work Foundation met were required to conduct job searches for 35 hours per week.

This affected their capacity to participate in training and prevented them from attending portions of courses in which they were already enrolled.

Ben Harrison, Director of the Work Foundation said: “Too often the Government’s approach to Universal Credit is at odds with their ‘Levelling Up’ ambitions.

“Rather than a system that supports recipients to improve their skills to access more secure and better paid jobs, it drives people to take on any job regardless of how suitable it is to their needs and aspirations.”

People on UC reported have difficulty establishing a supportive relationship with their Work Coach.

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People frequently faced a change in their Work Coach and struggled to build a trustworthy connection.

Additionally, those on UC were frequently required to individually explore training possibilities and eligibility. Work Coaches were frequently ignorant of available core skills projects.

Nine of the 16 people interviewed were mothers with children. They said that a lack of affordable childcare made it hard or impossible for them to take training courses, especially when they had to balance conditionality and part-time work. This resulted in an individual not being able to attend a paid training course.

Mr Harrison said: “Conditionality prevents many people on Universal Credit from accessing the full range of opportunities that would benefit them in the long term, and could also ultimately reduce welfare spending.

“Relationships between recipients and Work Coaches are often transactional, and for some people in our research, meeting Universal Credit requirements by searching for work 35 hours a week is a full-time job in itself.

“The costs of not meeting these requirements – in the form of sanctions – are very real, especially during a cost of living crisis.”

It was especially challenging for persons with care duties or part-time work to schedule training classes around these obligations.

Those with mental and physical health concerns also struggled to participate in training while doing a job hunt.

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Ben added: “This illustrates the wider issue that the UK needs a system of affordable, flexible childcare to allow parents and carers to fully participate in the labour market.

“One 25-year-old woman told us she had to turn down a fully-funded nursing course because she did not have childcare.

“Another turned down the opportunity to attend a short training course because it was too short notice to arrange childcare.”

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