New research project seeks employer views and experiences of Universal Credit
By Katy Jones, Research Fellow in the Centre for Decent Work and Productivity at Manchester Metropolitan University
Research and policymaking has largely ignored employer views and experiences of Universal Credit – the main benefit for people who are out of work or on a low income. As job creators, and those ultimately in control of the job opportunities claimants are seeking to access, this is an important gap. Exploring how employers engage (or could engage) with local employment services like Jobcentre Plus is also critical given ongoing recruitment struggles in key industries.
In a similar way to legacy benefits including Jobseekers Allowance, Universal Credit requires claimants who are out of work to engage in job seeking and other work-related activities. It is underpinned by the UK’s long-established ‘Work First’ approach, which requires claimants to make a high number of applications and move into work as quickly as possible.
Critically though, Universal Credit is also an in-work benefit (it replaces working tax credits), and in an unprecedented move, may involve the introduction of “in-work conditionality” (IWC). This may mean that claimants who are in work must continue to engage with the Jobcentre and demonstrate ongoing efforts to increase their earnings (e.g. through increasing their hours/earnings in their current place of work or by taking up additional or alternative jobs elsewhere).
Employers and the opportunities they offer are critical to the outcomes of such policies, and associated programmes like Kickstart and Restart. And while job-search expectations are applied to claimants, Universal Credit may have implications for the way employers recruit, manage, retain and progress their staff. Do employers see agencies like Jobcentre Plus as a recruitment channel? Does the Work First approach help them to get the right candidates?
Now more than ever, we need to understand how our welfare system interacts with the labour market. More than 6 million people now claim Universal Credit, and areas like Greater Manchester have relatively high numbers of Universal Credit claimants compared to other Districts (326,978 in April 2021).
As the UK faces high unemployment, and new programmes such as Kickstart and Restart are introduced, it is critical that we consult with employers about how policies impact on their businesses and their important role in helping people to enter and progress in work .
A new research project will do just that. Led by Dr Katy Jones from Manchester Metropolitan University’s Business School and supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), this important project will gather employer views of UC, how expectations placed on UC claimants may (or may not) impact on businesses, and how employment agencies like Jobcentre Plus can best work with the business community.
How can employers get involved?
The research team are currently looking for Employers (anyone with influence/power over recruitment and line management including Owner-Managers, HR managers, line managers) operating in Greater Manchester who are willing to take part in a confidential interview (face-to-face or online).
Employers from any sector can take part but they are particularly interested in speaking to employers in Retail, Hospitality and Social Care. Employers do not need to know anything about Universal Credit to take part – the researchers are interested in their insights and expertise as business owners and managers.
If you are interested in taking part, can help us to connect with local business communities, or simply want to find out more about the project, please contact Dr Katy Jones or Dr Calum Carson You can also follow the project on Twitter @UC_Employers
All responses will help towards a research paper which will be submitted to the government alongside suggestions for changes to the Universal Credit system.