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Monday, 11 November 2013

Universal Credit: Notes — with Web links — from our most recent guest speaker at a Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group business meeting.*

Universal Credit Information Notes


 Proposals  for  the Universal Credit scheme  (UC) first emerged in September  2009  from the Centre  for Social Justice; Iain Duncan Smith,  the current Secretary  of State for Work and Pensions who is tasked with setting up the project in the current government was  the  then chairman  of the Centre.

The supposed purpose of UC is to simplify and consolidate  the existing benefits  system,  and so reduce welfare  dependency  by making work more appealing  to claimants,  encouraging financial rectitude and  reducing  the current welfare budget.  It will also make wage savings in the public sector  as it is intended  to be part of the "Digital by Default" programme.  The October 2013 edition of "Labour Research"  states that the government is claiming  that while UC will cost  £2.2 billion  in in development  and delivery costs,  it will save an estimated £38 billion by reducing administrative,  fraud and error costs by 2023. This figure  includes  an estimated  annual saving of £100 million  by  transferring claimants onto the new system.

Last July DWP whistleblowers began  to tweet claims  that "at least £300  million had been
written off  from  the UC budget  due  to continued IT failures; when this  information  reached the national media the government initially stated  that  £34 million would be written  off, but as of the 11th of September The Guardian was quoting  the DWP's finance director as stating that "up to £161 million would be written off, with  the governmenfs  oversight body,  the Major Projects Authority claiming "at leasf  £140 million was  lost."

Despite  this, and the resulting delays  in rolling out  the project  - which was  initially due  to
begin nationally  this October - the project  is set  to continue. As  the  flagship policy of the
Welfare Reform Act it is considered  too big to fail. On 8th October 2013 Esther McVey  said
an estimated 1 million households will be claiming UC by  the  time it is fully implemented  in
2017. This will include  anyone who claims  any of the six benefits that will be rationalised
under the system,  including  those in low-paid or part-time  employment who  top-up  their
earnings with benefits:  by 2017 this group will also be subject to the requirements  of the
DWP  claimant regime,  including  the possibility  of sanctions  - the removal  of -benefits  - for a period of up to three years.

The comptexities  of introducing the UC system  are mirrored  by the difficulties  in producing coherent and specific  criticisms of the policy. As difficulties with the proposed  system emerge  they are adjusted  by "on  the fly" decisions:  for example, when  the "pathflnder" tests for UC had been introduced  in Ashton-under-Lyne  it was noted  that there was a massive increase  in rent arrears, so now there  is a two month  "switchback"  for the Housing Benefit element of the policy whereby that poftion  of the UC payment can be paid directly'to  the landlord. Similarly  there are aspects of UC that have  received  little media  focus,  such as  the role of UC in providing an  individual "electronic  ID card" as part of the Digital by Default proposals.

For  this reason the factsheet cannot cover all the ramifications  of the policy, or the
mechanisms by which it will mesh with other parts of the austerity-induced [or austerity-excused] welfare reforms. While some of this will be covered in today's session, the factsheet  is timited  to a series of notable  items, with accompanying  web  links where possible,  and some handy websites  to watch  as the policy progresses into the public  realm. These  are:

Benefits and Payments: The six "working-age"  benefits  to be consolidated  into a single
UC payment are:
  1. Jobseekers' Allowance;  
  2. Employment  and Support Allowance;  
  3. Income Support; 
  4. Child Tax Credit; 
  5. Working Tax Credit and 
  6. Housing Benefit.  
The Benefits Cap maximums  of £350 per week  for a single person  and  £500 per week  for a family will still apply. They will now however be paid  into a nominated  "householder' bank  account as a single monthly payment.  You will be expected  to apply  for and manage  your UC account online. There are a few case studies of current UC claimants,  together with  some  financial advice on how to cope with the introduction  of UC at this government  funded  site:

The existing Pathfinder regions, and a description of the online claimant journey:
(Page not found)

Critical Government reports on UC:

UC and IT issues:

UC and electronic ID:

Websites following the progress of UC:

http://www.benefitstraining.co.uk – run by a trainer for Shelter and other voluntary organisations

http://www.insidehousing.co.uk – frequently runs critical updates on UC (view comments!)

http://johnnyvoid.wordpress.com/ - hugely informative, influential and highly critical blog

Other aspects of the welfare reforms are discussed at:

http://www.haringey.org.uk/content/ - Haringey Solidarity Group


* Copy here is scanned, proofread and link tested by Swheatie from printed handout. 

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