Universal Credit – action taken, more to do
By Graham Whitham
Last week the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd MP acknowledged that key ways in which Universal Credit operates and functions need to be addressed. The first important announcement was that the two-child limit for Universal Credit payments will not apply to children born before April 2017. Whilst this is a welcome change, it still leaves the two-child limit in place for children born after that date, hurting families with more than two children who are already at greater risk of poverty. Many campaigners are rightly calling for the policy to be abolished altogether.
One of the major concerns about Universal Credit has been the lack of flexibility around the regularity of payments. Some are concerned that monthly payments cause problems for people used to budgeting on a weekly or fortnightly basis. Amber Rudd is looking at how the system can provide more frequent payments to those people who need them. At GMPA we believe the option of more frequent payments should be made available to everyone in receipt of Universal Credit. That way people will be able to choose the option that best meets their budgeting needs and habits.
Other announcements included looking at making is easier for families to manage childcare costs. Action is needed to reduce the complexity of accessing support for childcare and to support parents to meet upfront childcare costs when moving into work. The migration from the legacy benefits system to Universal Credit has placed a huge burden on the government and recipients of support. Amber Rudd said she will look at the migration of people onto Universal Credit to minimise some of the problems this causes for individuals and their families. The ideal would be an automatic migration of people from the legacy system to Universal Credit (rather than having to put in a new claim for support), but we are yet to see an indication from the Government that they will follow this course of action.
The announcements are welcome but tentative steps towards addressing some of the concerning elements of Universal Credit. In Greater Manchester, many individuals and organisations are fully aware of the challenges created by the implementation and operation of this new social security system. At GMPA we are working with others to understand what can be done locally to improve the way the social security system operates. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss this further.