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Universal Credit: Is it a Universal solution?

Newcastle-upon-Tyne is a ‘test and learn city’ for the roll-out of Universal Credit, which means that we’ve been helping some of our clients navigate their way through the new systems since May 2016. We'll be running a series of blogs over the coming months documenting our clients' experiences with Universal Credit: the barriers we face and the great examples of partnership work to improve the systems. But first, what exactly is Universal Credit?

The introduction of Universal Credit is one of the biggest changes to the benefits system that we’ve ever seen. Universal Credit brings six current benefit payments together and pays them all as a single monthly payment, to mimic a monthly salary. The benefits that are being replaced by Universal Credit are:

  • Housing benefit
  • Child Tax Credit
  • Income support
  • Working Tax Credit
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • And Income-related Employment and Support Allowance

Newcastle-upon-Tyne was nominated as a ‘test and learn city’ for the roll-out of Universal Credit, which means that we’ve been helping some of our clients navigate their way through the new systems since May 2016. We’ve currently got 5 clients who are signed up to the new system.

Even before Universal Credit has been rolled out across the whole country, we’re hearing about a lot of problems with this ‘universal solution’ for benefit claimants.

We’ve seen first-hand the challenges of accessing the new system for people with multiple and complex needs. The changes are not only challenging for our clients, but also the frontline workers who are navigating the clients through the new systems. For many vulnerable people in our society, a Navigator isn’t on hand to help with these issues, so what happens when Universal Credit is rolled out nationwide and thousands of people with multiple and complex needs are left to stumble through on their own?

It’s been sold as a system that’s ‘making work pay’ by the Government as it makes the rewards of gaining employment, which already makes it a system that isn’t for our clients. The end-goal of employment is an aspirational one for many people with multiple and complex needs, but very much something that is a long way away.

The people we help have much more immediate needs and goals that are to be addressed first: receiving adequate support for mental health issues; gaining safe and secure accommodation; looking after their health and wellbeing; to name but a few.

Since Universal Credit was rolled out in Newcastle, we’ve been collecting data, together with our core partner Changing Lives, to understand the effects of Universal Credit on those with multiple and complex needs, who are digitally disempowered, and who are far removed from the job market.

We’ve also been working with the Department of Work and Pensions to help improve the system for the people who are most in need, through the ‘test and learn’ process.

In this series of blogs, we’ll be following the experience of one of our clients, John*, as he enrols onto the new system with the help of his Fulfilling Lives Navigator. John’s journey is a complex one, but one that is common for people with multiple and complex needs. The barriers that John has faced over the past year prove that Universal Credit is not a universal solution, and it can lead to the most in-need people in our society falling through the gaps and being forgotten.

*name changed for anonymity