Scathing council review calls for ‘poorly designed’ Universal Credit system to be abandoned

Islington Town Hall. Photograph: Islington Council.

A council review into the roll-out of Universal Credit (UC) and its impact on residents and services in Islington has called for the “poorly designed” system to be abandoned entirely.

The report cites a litany of faults and concerns found with the service, having heard evidence from a range of different sources on the topic including housing associations, food banks, the Institute of Policy and Practice, and UC claimants themselves.

The recommendations made by councillors on Islington’s influential policy and performance scrutiny committee are likely to be welcomed by the Town Hall as a whole, after it passed a motion last year calling for the scandal-riven benefit system to be scrapped.

One resident providing feedback on behalf of local BAME communities said: “I am a mother of two kids, and a single mother. Being on UC is really hard for me.

“Having to support my familiy, as well as having to live in private accommodation and paying for the rent and bills is really hard, and sometimes I have to go to a food bank in order to feed my kids.

“I feel like this new system is really hard for me to cope with. It’s not actually working for me.”

Among the recommendations made to the government in the review are:

  • to immediately compensate severely disabled people who have lost out by moving onto UC having lost their severe/enhanced disability premium
  • to ensure that the childcare element of UC is paid immediately, rather than until parents are able to submit receipts for child care
  • to ensure that self- employed people receive the same amount of support through UC, as employed people
  • to ensure that local Department of Work & Pensions offices have access to, and are able to share, with the council and partners the numbers of claimants being referred to foodbanks, the number of hardship payments, the monetary amount of hardship payments, as an average, the number and percentage of claimants who do not receive their first payment in full on time (and data as to reasons why) and failed claims where residents have not completed their claim, or are refused UC, and the reasons why

However, as the committee has taken the view that UC is not working for many residents, they also requested that the government abandon it entirely, as well as fund local authorities adequately to compensate them for the financial burden of implementing the reforms.

The review concludes: “The committee has undertaken a wide ranging investigation into the government’s introduction of UC, and has made a number of recommendations thereon, which we hope will ameliorate this, even though we feel that the UC process is unfair, complex and will work to the disadvantage of claimants.

“UC was supposed to make work pay, however many of those claimants who are in financial hardship as a result of UC, are actually the working poor.

“The introduction of UC by the government, as part of the austerity programme to reduce the benefits bill, was designed to save money in the welfare budget, so it unsurprising that many claimants are financially worse off as a result.

“Since we commenced the review we have been informed of a number of changes, that have had to be introduced by government, which have arisen as a result of the experiences of claimants in making claims and for local authorities, DWP and support agencies in administering and assisting with claims.

“Our view is that these changes have resulted from the introduction of a poorly designed system, one that makes claiming difficult for many people, a system that penalises some of the most vulnerable members of our community, and imposed a great deal of financial hardship on a great number of claimants.

“Whilst our recommendations may assist in making it easier for some residents to be supported in order to claim UC, it is recognised that this flawed system will impact adversely on residents, and those that are the most vulnerable will suffer the most and the committee are of the view that given the problems with UC it should now be scrapped.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “We work closely with local authorities and other stakeholders, listening to feedback and making changes where needed.

“We have invested £10 billion into the system since 2016, making 100% advances available from day one and paying two weeks’ of extra housing support at the start of someone’s claim.”

EDIT – This article was updated at 17:06 on 17 June to include a statement from the DWP.