Government asked to quit the ‘dangerous’ rollout of Universal Credit

LONDON (Parliament Politics Magazine) – Starting Monday, millions of people will be shifted off legacy benefits and onto universal credit, a strategy that charities have judged too risky to continue.

More than 20 charities have written to Therese Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, urging her not to proceed with the implementation until the government can guarantee that no one’s income will be affected.

They claim that the earnings of over 700,000 persons with mental health issues, dementia and learning disabilities could be jeopardised, resulting in “devastating and life-threatening” repercussions.

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has halted the process of moving those on benefits such as Working Tax Credit and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) on the new system.

Claimants will be given at least three months’ notice to file a universal credit claim, as well as the phone number for a helpline.

In case an application is not made by the deadline, the DWP will be entitled to suspend their current benefits.

They were worried that the approach for shifting those receiving older benefits onto universal credit risked forcing many of them into destitution, the organisations warned in the letter.

By the end of 2024, the administration hopes to have all claimants on the new system.

The measures, according to Paul Farmer, CEO of Mind and a signatory, could leave people with mental health issues without money.

Those who were too ill to communicate with the DWP might find themselves unable to pay their rent, buy food, or keep up with their mounting energy bills, he said.  The DWP should put a stop to this.

During a cost-of-living crisis, he said, putting the earnings of hundreds of thousands of people at danger is absolutely unacceptable.

According to a DWP study from 2018, almost a quarter of people with long-term health conditions were not able to register for universal credit online, and 54% stated they required further assistance in setting up their claim.

There are still 2.6 million households on legacy benefits, with roughly half of them receiving Employment and Support Allowance, the major sickness benefit.

Another million people receive tax credits, 200,000 people get Income Support, and 100,000 people get Jobseeker’s Allowance.

According to the government’s calculations, 900,000 people will be worse off as a result of the move to universal credit, while 1.4 million will benefit by £220 per month.

“Over five million people are already supported by Universal Credit,” a DWP official stated.

It was a dynamic system that changed as people’s incomes fluctuated, was more generous overall than previous benefits, and simplified their safety net for individuals who couldn’t work.

Top-up payments would be “available for eligible claimants” whose universal credit entitlement is less than their legacy benefits, according to the spokesman.

Eleni Kyriakou

Eleni is a journalist and analyst at Parliament Magazine focusing on European News and current affairs. She worked as Press and Communication Office – Greek Embassy in Lisbon and Quattro Books Publications, Canada. She is Multilingual with a good grip of cultures, eye in detail, communicative, effective. She holds Master in degree from York University.