The professed aim of the introduction of Universal Credit is to boost the personal responsibility of claimants, smooth the passage to work and prepare out-of-work claimants for their next job. There are a number of problems with Universal Credit, however - problems which haven't been given anywhere near the amount of coverage by the press that they warrant.
The Universal Credit scheme officially goes live today with a ‘Pathfinder’ version in the north of England – Ashton-under-Lyne – and the scheme is expected to be rolled out nationwide from October 2013.
Universal credit will merge several benefits and tax credits into one monthly payout.
There are a number of problems with Universal Credit, however – problems which haven’t been given anywhere near the amount of coverage by the press that they warrant.
The benefit changes will “reinforce the traditional male breadwinner model”, in the words of the Women’s Budget Group. The new universal credit will mean that whereas previously certain benefits like tax credits were paid directly to mothers, the universal credit will be claimed and owned by couples jointly and usually paid in full to one partner. Incentives for second earners (usually women) will also be weakened according to independent evaluations; and even more worryingly, the government believes ‘that any such risk of decreased work incentives for women in couples is justified.’
Households that earn £247 or less a week will see a fall in real income in 2015 because of the changes to benefits, and lone parents will be worse off, whatever their circumstances, according to the Chartered Institute of Housing.
Research suggests that a monthly payment will make it harder for claimants to budget. A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) survey asked benefit and tax credit recipients the following question: “If payments of benefits and tax credits are made monthly, would you find it easier or harder to budget, or would it make no difference at all?” Four in ten said it would be harder to budget after the changes and just one in ten said it would be easier. Four in ten said it would make no difference. The fear most commonly cited by claimants was that they would run out of money before the end of the month.
The proposal that social tenants should have to manage their rental payments, as opposed to the money going direct to their social landlord, is overwhelmingly opposed by most social tenants. 86 per cent of social tenants believe “strongly” that it is better for housing benefit to be paid directly to the landlord. A third of claimants are not confident they will be able to keep up rental payments if they have to manage benefits paid to them for their rent.
The reforms are bad for those who are in work and looking to work more, especially those who previously received Working Tax Credits. According to an analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), “Low earners who do have a working partner will tend to see their marginal effective tax rate (the fraction of a small rise in earnings lost to income tax, national insurance, withdrawn benefits or tax credits) increase, because Universal Credit will have a higher withdrawal rate than tax credits do.” (p4) The marginal tax rate for this group will be 76.2 per cent, up from 73 per cent as it is now.” As well as reducing incentives for second earners (see point one), so-called “strivers” will effectively be penalised for working harder.