Women lose out under Universal Credit proposals

A single, household-level payment for benefits risks harming children’s well-being, reducing gender equality, and increasing vulnerability to financial abuse.

Iain Duncan Smith

Moussa Haddad, Oxfam Policy Officer on UK Poverty

In legislating to pay benefits in a single, household-level payment, the government risks harming children’s well-being, reducing gender equality, and increasing vulnerability to financial abuse.

Universal Credit aims to consolidate a range of benefits and tax credits into a single payment in order to create a simpler system. As Welfare Reform minister Lord Freud recently confirmed to Oxfam, the whole amount would be claimed by one individual, or go into a joint account.

Of particular importance are the child and childcare elements of tax credits. These are currently paid to the main carer – usually the mother – and will be rolled into the single Universal Credit payment. This is problematic for a number of reasons.

Mothers usually take the main responsibility for meeting children’s day-to-day needs in low/moderate-income families. Labelling matters too: government research shows that child tax credit is commonly identified as money for children[pdf], and spent accordingly. And a study of Winter Fuel Allowance earlier this week from the IFS found “robust evidence of a behavioural effect of the labelling”.

The choice of benefit recipient within couples takes place in a context of gender inequalities. Where there is evidence, it points to men tending to make benefit claims on behalf of couples; 81 per cent of guarantee pension credit (the other type of pension credit being savings credit) claims in couples are made by men, as are the majority of joint JSA claims. Overall, however, there is a lack of evidence to support the assumption of free choice within households.

Moreover, once money reaches a household, it is often unequally distributed, as ministers acknowledge, and Oxfam research demonstrates. Nor does the government’s preferred outcome – a joint bank account – guarantee equal access to money or equality in financial matters. Women are more likely to have individual accounts, and value them for reasons of independence – a trend that is increasing.

The combination of these factors means that women often lack access to money within the household. Indeed, one in four mothers have absolutely nothing to spend on themselves [pdf], rising to a rate of one in two mothers in households below the poverty line. Benefits labelled for children are sometimes the sole source of independent income for women, helping to reduce their vulnerability to financial abuse.

By ensuring that the child and childcare elements of Universal Credit are paid to the main carer – as proposed in an amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill supported by Oxfam that went down today – parliament can help to ensure that money intended for children is paid to the person most likely to spend it on them. It would also help to give carers (usually women) in low-income households access to income in their own right.

29 Responses to “Women lose out under Universal Credit proposals”

  1. Stop Hate UK

    Women lose out under Universal Credit proposals: //bit.ly/m0K3Lp writes @Oxfam's Moussa Haddad

  2. Gavin Sibthorpe

    Women lose out under Universal Credit proposals: //bit.ly/m0K3Lp writes @Oxfam's Moussa Haddad

  3. Finola Kerrigan

    Women lose out under Universal Credit proposals: //bit.ly/m0K3Lp writes @Oxfam's Moussa Haddad

  4. Oxford Kevin

    RT @leftfootfwd: Women lose out under Universal Credit proposals //t.co/T9FbcXJ

  5. WomenAgainsttheCuts

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  6. Rosemary

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  7. Shan Kilby

    RT @leftfootfwd: Women lose out under Universal Credit proposals //t.co/6iblorg

  8. Dr Eoin Clarke

    RT @leftfootfwd: Women lose out under Universal Credit proposals //t.co/6iblorg

  9. UK Poverty Post

    @OxfamGB says women lose out from Universal Credit #welfare proposals on @leftfootfwd //bit.ly/m0K3Lp

  10. Ben Morgan

    @OxfamGB says women lose out from Universal Credit #welfare proposals on @leftfootfwd //bit.ly/m0K3Lp

  11. Mabel Horrocks

    RT @leftfootfwd: Women lose out under Universal Credit proposals //t.co/6iblorg

  12. UK Poverty Post

    Women lose out under Universal Credit proposals | Left Foot Forward //fb.me/Hlpypv7b

  13. Suzanne Richards

    Women lose out under Universal Credit proposals | Left Foot Forward //fb.me/Hlpypv7b

  14. Burley Lodge

    Women lose out under Universal Credit proposals | Left Foot Forward //fb.me/Hlpypv7b

  15. Michael

    Women lose out under Universal Credit proposals – //bit.ly/mSVTtR

  16. Oxfam Scotland

    Women lose out under Universal Credit proposals | Left Foot Forward //fb.me/Hlpypv7b

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  18. Khlari

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  19. Pauline

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  20. Leon Wolfson

    Sorry, but I consider this minor compared to the effect of rolling housing benefit into a “universal” credit, actually massively increasing the number of people forced to attend jobcenters, despite working, removing proper links to local housing conditions and decreasing income for people only currently claiming housing benefit.

  21. UK Poverty Post

    Women lose out under Universal Credit proposals | Left Foot Forward //fb.me/JOwf1jkU

  22. Moussa Haddad

    Leon, I don’t disagree, and those things are particularly pernicious as they will get cumulatively worse with time.

    I think it’s particularly important to draw attention to the issue I describe, though, in part because it can seem minor. It’s one of those small changes that risks slipping through unnoticed, but payment of child tax credits to the main carer was a hard-won victory. And it’s a relatively small fault in Universal Credit that wouldn’t be enormously expensive to correct. But as (I hope) you can see above, it has the potential to be a pretty significant issue for many people, especially for some of the most vulnerable women in the country.

  23. Aaaaargh!

    Presumably Moussa, you would like to see this equality applied to Child Benefit when couples have split up or divorced.

    At the moment inequality exists when, even if there is equal care ie the child spends half their time with each parent, the main carer , usually the mother as you say, receives all the money with not even an implied responsibility to help the other parent.

  24. Leon Wolfson

    Moussa;

    As you say, the issue you’re describing – the split of income – is relatively easy to fix (assuming both partners have a bank account, which is a slightly separate issue, but let’s ignore that for now).

    The things I’m worried about are not. (Especially what amounts to yanking housing benefit into central government control, priming it for major rate reductions and tying receiving it to job-seeking – pernicious when people can only work part-time for disability or care reasons, or simply have a low-hour reasonably high-rate job)

  25. mr. Sensible

    Theresa May not doing her job properly again…

  26. Phil Morris

    Women lose out under Universal Credit proposals | Left Foot Forward //fb.me/Hlpypv7b

  27. David Reabow

    Sorry, this is yet another idiot singing (whining) from the feminist bandwagon! He is now trying to force sexual discrimination apon couples depending on whos account benefits are paid into. Once again the feminist cry is heard, “if everything is not going directly to women, then it’s discrimination”. Couples working together sharing responsibilities are just that! Stop kissing the @ss of the feminist movements, your words beginning to stink of something bad!

  28. Moussa Haddad

    Leon, what you describe is the largest part of the welfare cuts the government is introducing, which are around 34 times as big as the money being invested in Universal Credit during this Parliament. They’re every bit as bad as you describe, but seem to me to be more about this government’s attitude to cuts than these reforms per se. Incidentally, I believe that the DWP have plans in place to make sure money gets to people without bank accounts.

    On the Child Benefit issue described, I’m afraid I don’t know enough about that particular area to have a considered view.

    On another note, I was pleased to hear Stephen Timms raising a lot of these issues in the debate yesterday.

  29. Cameron’s recycled rhetoric on benefit claimants | Left Foot Forward

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