This is the government’s flagship welfare scheme which aims to streamline the benefits system for working age people by bringing together out of work and in work benefits, improve the transition to employment and make work pay by removing disincentives to work.
As with many other boroughs across the country there are a number of concerns regarding implementation of Universal Credit in Hackney. Hackney has a higher proportion of all age groups claiming Jobseekers Allowance/Universal Credit than London and Great Britain, the over 50 are much likely to be claiming in Hackney (4.7%) than in London (2.7%) or Great Britain (1.7%). Also Hackney has a relatively high unemployment rate – 7.2% of economically active residents were unemployed in the last two years, which is higher than for London (5.7%) and the whole country (4.8%).
There are many concerns and challenges the borough will face highlighted by the Mayor of Hackney last year. More recently Child Poverty Action Group and Trussell Trust carried out campaigns about the impact of Universal Credit on families and disabled people.
These all highlight concerns that the introduction of Universal Credit is causing increased poverty. Particular issues which have been raised are: the two children limit, long waits for benefits, cuts to the work allowance, funding levels, policy design and implementation issues.
Tower Hamlets who is already in full service Universal Credit, has found that vulnerable residents in particular, who have barriers to employment, could be at risk of greater poverty and housing instability.
Other issues that providers in Tower Hamlets identified included:
In Hackney advice providers will see the impact of the full service changes and problems that claimants are facing the most. With advice funding in the borough limited, the demand from local people to gain support with Universal Credit will raise the already high demand on local providers in the borough even higher.
Setting out clear plan in supporting the most vulnerable is extremely important, outlining a structured referral system is set in place where vulnerable clients identified as not being able to go through the process of using the Universal Credit portal get support and assistance from the DWP with their claims; this will in tern minimise the impact through support, guidance and early intervention.
A way to support this would be additional provision or links to existing services in the borough that could support residents that have a lack of digital skills, language barriers and with literacy problems. Also integrated campaigns to inform residents of full live service will help clarify the changes in roles and responsibility.
The Universal Credit working group, which is formed of DWP/Jobcentre plus, Hackney Council departments representatives, Citizen Advice plus and the voluntary sector (Hackney Advice Forum representatives), is a positive step in ensuring that all parties have a voice in the pre and post implementation of live service in the borough.
Through this work, it is vital that communication is as clear and concise as possible and there is a strong strategic direction and approach laid out prior to October for the benefit of everyone.