Lord Freud has written another piece about Universal Credit. So I’ve written another response, and here it is.
Yes, Universal Credit should be simpler to work out withdrawal rates because there is just one withdrawal rate. But then there are different disregard levels, so an individual may still struggle or need a computer to help them work it out – much like the benefits calculator that currently exists to allow a person to work out the effects of different situations.
Someone will still have to calculate the different components and how much a person or household is entitled to for each component, but that may be the DWP’s job. And because tax-credits are removed, there is no need to apply to the HMRC. So from the claimant’s view, applying is also simpler.
Online processing is supposed to give a more streamlined process. I don’t know if this will be the case or not. Certainly when I applied over the phone the form that was filled in for me was full of mistakes. Filling in online meant no mistakes (or fewer mistakes) were made, because I had all the information I needed in front of me. However I still needed support, partly because health-related benefits can be distressing to apply for. For people competent with computers, I suspect using an online form is easier. But for those who are not competent with computers; those who have other difficulties such as learning difficulties, dyslexia or illiteracy; those without computers or without internet; those with chaotic lifestyles or are living in hostels; for these and for others the emphasis on online submission will be detrimental.
I would have assumed that those who find online forms easier, such as because it avoids a trip to the Jobcentre, already submit online. And those who find this too difficult will already go to the Jobcentre or use a telephone. So why the need to change? Should this not be about the customer’s best interest?
Furthermore, an application for Jobseeker’s necessitates repeated trips to the Jobcentre anyway. So what’s wrong with one at the beginning of the application process? If you have alternative plans for those who cannot manage online applications, why have them in the first place?
Comments about whether or not work is worthwhile, or more worthwhile, under Universal Credit deserve fuller attention so I shan’t address them here.
The line about ‘most people at work are paid monthly’ gets a little tiring. The argument against is not about what most people get. It is about what people at the bottom of the income ladder get; it is about what it is reasonable to expect of people who often already face numerous challenges that may include poor arithmetic skills; and it is about what is best for the people concerned.
If you have alternative plans for those who cannot manage on monthly pay-packets, why have them in the first place?
I’m confused by the ‘new’ conditions on working part-time and claiming benefit. As far as I was aware, a person could only work up to 16 hours whilst retaining benefit; this was to encourage people to seek some work whilst continuing to have the requirement of looking for full-time work. Anyone who had caring duties could claim Income Support to top-up part-time work. I don’t know what ‘new’ conditions have been brought in, unless part-time work is to be discouraged. Which would be unfortunate given the difficulty of finding full-time work in the current climate, and would keep people away from the labour market for longer.
Lord Freud seems to have hinted at a partial benefit for those who are ill. Other countries have partial benefit schemes whereby those who are deemed too ill for full-time work but capable of part-time work are given partial benefits. Some countries also top this up with an unemployment benefit if the person concerned cannot find part-time work. But as far as I am aware, there has been no suggestion of this by the government. I am therefore unsure what Lord Freud means when he says, “If someone can’t work full-time because of an illness or caring responsibilities or simply because a full-time job isn’t available, then we will not place additional expectations on them.” People who cannot work full-time because of an illness do have expectations placed on them – it is called the Work-Related Activity Group.
I also imagine it could be very difficult to determine who is not working full-time “because a full-time job isn’t available,” as opposed to lack of trying. This would also be a new policy I have not heard of before.
I can’t say whether “speculation” that the IT system will fail is true or not. I can point out that such large schemes generally do have problems. But concern about failure, when the concern is based on many past failures and difficulties, is not defeatist. It is a pragmatic request that things are done properly the first time, taking the time necessary to do so. It isn’t that “people believe we shouldn’t changes the system because it is hard.” Rather, it is that given we are changing the system, we should do it properly.
Lord Freud correctly says that, assuming full take up under both the current system and the new one, Universal Credit will involve an extra £2 billion in spending. Which leaves the unsettling question that if UC brings higher payments and pensioners are not being touched at all, where are the savings coming from? In large part, the savings are coming from the fact that rises in benefits will no longer be inline with the Retail Price Index, and will instead rise with the Consumer Price Index. This means that benefits will rise at a lower level, thus giving the savings. This also counteracts the government’s anti-poverty measures.
This is Lord Freud’s article in the Guardian: