The UK government’s roll-out of Universal Credit has garnered a great deal of media coverage over the last year. The controversial change in benefits, which sees six varying benefits condensed into one payment, is currently being rolled out across the country.

Here are five things you need to know about Universal Credit.

Care experienced young people may be more harshly effected

We know that while there have been some positive steps made to support care experienced young people to access work and further/higher education, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done – those with experience of care are still less likely to have positive outcomes and destinations compared to their non-care experienced peers.

Within the social security system itself, care experienced young people face additional barriers: A Children’s Society Report found that UK care leavers were 5 times more likely to be sanctioned on JSA than general adult claimants, and were additionally less likely to challenge their sanction – this is something for all of us to be sharply aware of in providing support to young people navigating Universal Credit.

Further, 16 and 17 year old care leavers are not generally eligible for Univeral Credit:

“The universal credit rules for care leavers aged 16 and 17 are very similar to the special rules for income support, income-based JSA and housing benefit, except that young care leaver is still excluded from universal credit, even if [they] return to live with [their] family, regardless of whether the local authority is supporting [them]. This means that care leavers, and those in continuing care, aged 16 and 17 are not generally able to claim universal credit. Instead the local authority is responsible for providing financial support and housing.

Read the care leavers and benefits advice from CPAG here:

Read the Children Society’s ‘Claiming after care’ report here:

Staf member case study: "Live service was introduced in Falkirk in March of this year. In anticipation of this, the leaving care team began to make contact with our local DWP offices in 2014. We agreed to implement the DWP care leavers strategy where all care experienced young people had a flag on the DWP system which alerted staff that the claimant may have barriers to engagement. Specialist DWP advisors were identified who worked solely with our young people and they spent time with us, shadowing. We also provided training to the local DWP offices. This initiative won a national DWP partnership award. This partnership working has continued and we have relatively low sanction rates amongst our service user group although flagging of care leavers has become more difficult with the introduction of the online journal system." - Falkirk Council 

2. ‘This service is delayed…’

Already delayed, leaked government documents are now reportedly suggesting that the full roll-out may be further slowed and not concluded until December 2023. Yet a DWP official has stated that the rollout out will continue, with three million people across the UK set to be on Universal Credit by the end of 2019. 

The roll-out, initially set to be completed last year, has been stalled due to a variety of flaws within the implementation of the new system, including administrative errors that have left many claimants waiting an extra three weeks on average, on top of the 35-day wait for an initial payment.

There has been growing pressure from opposition parties, trade unions, charities, and campaign groups to halt Universal Credit.

Whilst ambiguity surrounds the exact timings of the roll-out moving forward, one thing is clear: Universal Credit is having – and will have – a devastating effect on communities across the country. In Scotland, over 100,000 people are already receiving Universal Credit, with roll-outs happening in a number of different authorities, including Glasgow and Aberdeen, over October.

Read the transition roll-out schedule here:

Staf member best practice: Glasgow City Council expects 12,000 people to migrate to Universal Credit in the coming months. In recognition of the impact in other local authority areas, the council has set aside £2 million for financial and digital inclusion work. This will include a network of 19 Universal Credit Hubs throughout the city. Read more here.  

3. More people are in rent arrears, and foodbank usage is up

A recent Citizens’ Advice Scotland report shows a stark 47 per cent increase in the number of requests for advice on rent arrears in the last five years in Scotland. 

Severe issues with unaffordable rents and exploitative, low-paid, insecure work are compounded further by the introduction of reformed benefits, with the report stating that instances of rent arrears were far higher amongst tenants receiving Universal Credit.  

Anti-poverty charity The Trussell Trust has noted that in areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out the increase in foodbank usage was more significant, with an average rise of 16.85 per cent. East Lothian Council, which comprises the first Scottish area to adopt the system – Musselburgh, has seen a 34 per cent increase in foodbank usage. 

“Analysis of data from frontline agencies referring to foodbanks across the UK between April 2016 and April 2018 shows that benefit transitions, most likely due to people moving onto Universal Credit, are increasingly accounting for more referrals and are likely driving up need in areas of full Universal Credit rollout. Waiting for the first payment is a key cause, while for many, simply the act of moving over to a new system is causing hardship.”

Read the full CAS report here:

Read more on The Trussell Trust website here:

Staf member case study: “Client has been relying on friends and family for food and help with Gas & Electricity. I have given client Budgeting advice, but as client is on a very low income she is limited on what more she can reduce." - Falkirk Council, where full service was introduced in March. 

4. Scottish claimants have ‘choices’

For those claiming Universal Credit in Scotland, two distinct choices are available in managing payments, claimants can:

  • be paid either monthly or twice monthly;
  • have the housing costs in their award of Universal Credit paid direct to their landlord.

These choices are available due to the Scottish Government exercising its limited powers, but do little to mitigate the impact of the new benefit – as noted by the Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People, Shirley-Anne Somerville, who has called for:

[…] a halt to the roll-out of Universal Credit and the use the Budget as the first step towards a fundamental review of this deeply flawed system”.

Read more about the choices available to Scottish claimants here:

5. The equality impact

A Women’s Budget Group briefing revealed that the loss in income through Universal Credit will more harshly effect women and ethnic minority groups.

The report said “Women on average will lose more than men through Universal Credit: employed women will lose £1400 of their yearly income, with a £600 loss for unemployed women. Employed black women will lose the most: £1500”.

Further, concerns have been raised at the Work and Pensions Select Committee that the single household payments could put domestic abuse victims at further risk, and it has been widely asserted that the policy will exacerbate financial abuse for survivors, and pose an additional barrier for them to escape abuse.

Read the full Women’s Budget Group briefing here: