Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Universal Credit could ‘steamroll’ two million vulnerable people into poverty

Complicated application process means that many people simply give up before their claim is completed.

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Millions of the UK’s most vulnerable adults are at risk of being locked out from claiming vital welfare support, due to mind-bending complexities surrounding the Government’s new Universal Credit system, a leading charity has warned.

Research by the Salvation Army found that up to two million people suffering with mental health problems or learning difficulties could be left struggling to navigate the new benefits system, despite promises from Government ministers that Universal Credit will simplify the application process.

Photo: Paula Peters

Researchers found that 85% of clients experienced difficulties in making a claim, with around two-thirds of these (60%) citing a lack of computer access or problems in understanding the claims process.

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Universal Credit rolls six legacy benefits into one single monthly payment and has been promoted as a simpler alternative to the social security benefits it is replacing.

However, the Government’s own research shows that 20% of Universal Credit claims are dropped before they are completed, meaning that many vulnerable people are in danger of dropping out of the welfare system all-together.

The Salvation Army says there is overwhelming evidence that unless the Government provide more support for people to apply, vulnerable people will struggle to access their benefits.

Millions could be left unable to buy food, pay their rent, and take care of their children, the charity warns.

Rebecca Keating, Director of Employment Services at The Salvation Army said: “Rolling out Universal Credit in its current form will steamroll vulnerable people into poverty but the Government has time to turn this around by accepting our recommendations and making it easier to apply.

“Millions of people need extra support accessing a computer or understanding how to fill in complicated online forms.

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“It is these vulnerable people who also claim Employment Support Allowance (ESA), a benefit for those who need extra help to get back into work.

“Over two million people are currently claiming ESA and are due to be moved onto Universal Credit.

“Our research shows that many of them are going to struggle to access a system that is complicated, bureaucratic and digital by default.”

A near empty food cupboard. Photo: Oxfam.

Michael, 36, said: “I suffer from anxiety and depression and have been coming to The Salvation Army’s foodbank since I was put on Universal Credit two years ago.

“It’s really tough and I’ve been sanctioned for missing appointments when I was ill.

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“I’ve also been sanctioned for not looking online for work, but I don’t have access to the internet now because I had to pawn my laptop and my phone to get money to look after my kids.”

Rebecca Keating added: “Universal Credit is already the main reason people are coming to our foodbanks.

“They come to us for help at the point when they have given up and got themselves into debt trying to manage without the money for rent and food.

“We are helping those we can but the system is complicated even for those who are not classed as vulnerable and are applying for the standard Job Seekers Allowance who may also struggle.

“Half of people we surveyed said that mental ill health meant they struggled to move on to Universal Credit.

“The Government needs to seriously rethink the implications of what that means for moving more people onto the benefit.”

Photo: Alexander Baxevanis via Flickr (CC-BY)

The Salvation Army is calling on the Government to better identify vulnerable people and those with mental health issues so that the appropriate support can be provided.

The charity also says that Jobcentre Work Coaches should have smaller caseloads so that they can give more time to claimants with the greatest barriers to emplyment.

And claimant commitments, the agreements signed by Universal Credit claimants to look for work in exchange for payments, needs to be personalised so that specific needs around issues like homelessness and domestic abuse are taken into account.

The Salvation Army’s report, ‘Understanding Benefits and Mental Health: A national rethink on how government supports vulnerable people moving onto Universal Credit’ surveyed people who are currently out of work and being helped to find employment with its Employment Plus service.

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