The system is still in turmoil - with even staff unclear of how it works, and parents in the dark over how much they stand to gain/lose in taking on work.
The shift to Universal Credit has created an unpredictable system of confusion and errors, according to interviews by single parent charity Gingerbread.
The organisation has spoken to single parents, finding that the ‘all in one’ benefits scheme places huge strain on many – with individuals struggling to work out how much they’ll lose if they take on more hours, under the ‘tapered’ formula.
Gingerbread describe a situation where ‘it’s up to you to work it all out’, arguing ‘the experience of UC remains bleak and chaotic for many single parent families’. The organisation say work coaches are often unable to provide accurate and timely calculations of how much recipients would actually earn on going back to work.
Parents told the charity they were ‘too scared to take the risk of moving into work’ with risks of entering insecure and low paid work often too high and gains too low.
One single mum, Beccy, was offered a job – but her work coach was unable to provide her with a financial
calculation as to what she would earn. “He just said ‘why not just wait and see what you get once you have started your job’” the charity reports.
Another, Felicity. was put under strain after UC rules required her to look for work when her son turned three. “She thinks that this is too soon for single parents to move into work especially because people’s circumstances can be so different, for instance where they do not have wider family support,” Gingerbread said.
Last Autumn’s budget was supposed to cut delays from application to receiving UC from six weeks to five – but it appears that implementing this policy has been patchy.
Some parents have faced ludicrous delays, with one mum experiencing a ten-week wait – sending her into a spiral of debt and forced to rely on a food bank to feed her family.
The organisation highlight the frustrating bureaucracy associated with the scheme, with parents having to take childcare receipts to the jobcentre.
The charity are calling for the government to reverse cuts to the Universal Credit ‘work allowance’ – the amount people are allowed to earn before their benefits are cut.
As the Child Poverty Action Group note, “This is very similar in scale (approx. £3bn) and impact to the cuts to the tax credits threshold which were reversed.”
Gingerbread are also backing:
- Changes to make the system simpler – including a mechanism to pay registered childcare providers and landlords directly
- Allowing single parents who would need to move onto UC after entering temporary work to remain on legacy benefits, when a transfer would leave them worse off
- Better, personalised support for recipients – currently many support staff don’t appear to understand the system
This month sees dozens more jobcentres signing up to the botched scheme as part of the ‘staggered’ government roll-out.
Last year Left Foot Forward revealed that people were being denied prescriptions and dental care because practices do not know whether Universal Credit claimants are eligible for free treatment.
Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.
Read Gingerbread’s analysis on the shift to Universal Credit here.Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.