“Lack of meaningful training” for DWP staff means that some of the most vulnerable Universal Credit claimants could be left trapped in abusive relationships and effectively tied “to the hands of a controlling, abusive partner”, MP’s have heard.
The Commons Work and Pensions Committee is currently investigating the impact of Universal Credit on survivors of domestic abuse, including victims of financial abuse, and heard how front-line DWP staff “do not feel confident that they have the skills to deal with Domestic Abuse cases due to the lack of meaningful training”.
Under the current design of Universal Credit, payments are typically made to a single household. Under this system of payment a controlling partner may try to forceably commandeer the payments for themselves, leaving the victim – who may have attempted to leave the relationship – tied to their abuser for financial security.
MP’s were told “the single household payment plays into the hands of a controlling, abusive partner”, but the idea of splitting payments between the two parties – without adequate training for staff – is also not without risk.
Evidence submitted to the Committee by the PCS Union states: “Work coaches may be supportive and encouraging and be able to signpost the claimant to help, but while the claimant is still living in the abusive household, the coach cannot implement the official ‘easement'”—a temporary lifting of conditionality for abuse victims.
PCS added that “for claimants still in the household experiencing financial controlling abuse, a split payment of UC is not necessarily helpful or indeed realistic or safe to implement”.
They continue: “The claimant would need to be able to ‘explain’ the reason for a split payment to the abusive partner, and would need to set up their own bank account – difficult in itself – in order to receive the money.
“A split payment of the UC personal allowance element also causes any UC rent element to be paid directly to the landlord which potentially ties the claimant to the household further.”
Frank Field MP (Labour), Chair of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, said: “Another disturbing front is opening up in the implementation of the Government’s flagship welfare reform policy Universal Credit.
“Up until now, the focus has been on how brutally some constituents are treated once they are pushed onto Universal Credit. Now we have the views from the other side of the counter, of those civil servants who try loyally to carry out the Government’s wishes.
“The lack of training and expertise at the front line in JCPs is a thread running through all of our benefits inquiries – and now it is becoming apparent to the public how this is leaving them unprepared to deal with the most vulnerable claimants.”
The Committee also heard evidence from the food bank charity Trussell Trust, who highlighted a 52% upsurge in demand for emergency food parcels in Universal Credit rollout areas.
Trussell Trust also warned that some components of the “Universal Support” which are intended to help households in their transition to the new benefit, such as advice and debt management support, is not being offered to Universal Credit claimants.