Statistics and survey results from claimants taking part in Universal Credit Pathfinders have been released by DWP today.
The stand out fact is that the number of people who have actually moved on to Universal Credit is relatively small: just 2,150 people in the Pathfinder areas.
The survey results don’t tell us much about how people are coping with housing costs in the Universal Credit system, which is a shame – as we know this is often one of the biggest concerns for those in the welfare system.
But there are still some important lessons in these early results. They suggest that the move to Universal Credit is proving more challenging for claimants than was hoped:
• 47% of claimants do not think that the new monthly payment is more convenient than the old, fortnightly JSA.
• 34% of claimants have needed cash support on top of their benefits, mainly from friends and family. This is a significantly higher percentage needing extra help than for a comparable group of claimants on JSA.
The survey results do not tell us whether the need for extra financial help is a reflection of the difficulties of managing a low income on a monthly cycle, nor do they tell us what the money was needed for – be it to top up rent, pay bills or buy food. But they do tell us that most of the people who needed extra financial help had to rely on their family and friends. It suggests that the bank of mum and dad is being used by some people just to get by.
The move to monthly budgeting under Universal Credit is important for many claimants – in terms of both their perception of its inconvenience, and the reality of whether the change means they find themselves needing additional support.
The lesson for policy makers is that we have to ensure there is adequate transitional protection for those who will struggle to cope with these changes.
This could come in the form of Alternative Payment Arrangements being put in place for a transitional period of six months while new claimants adjust to Universal Credit, in order to protect their rent payments to landlords.
Adequate local financial support – from Universal Credit advances to Local Welfare Assistance schemes – will also be crucial. And as ever this will require local authorities and other local organisations to play an central role in making the UC system work.
Ultimately, we need to ensure Universal Credit works for government – both central and local – if we are to ensure Universal Credit works for claimants.
So while Universal Credit is being slowly rolled out, everyone involved in its implementation needs to contribute to feedback and dialogue with government to ensure the new system works.