Universal credit and disability: What’s changing and why

Universal credit is a new means-tested benefit for people of working age with a low income, which will be organised online via job centres.

The new benefit will combine a number of working age benefits into one. These include: income based jobseeker’s allowance, income related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Income Support, Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit and Housing Benefit.

All payments will be made once a month and will go directly into the recipient’s bank account.

All claim applications will have to be done online, and claimants will have to visit a local library, jobcentre or council if they do not have internet access. (BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-11735673)

580_Image_Universal_credit_logoQualification

There are four work related requirements for anyone seeking to apply for Universal Credit.

  • Work focused interview requirement: designed to assess an individual’s prospects and assist them in moving into or staying in work.
  • Work preparation requirement: can include taking part in training or undertaking work experience.
  • Work search requirement: can include searching for work, applying for jobs, creating an online profile, registering with employment agencies and seeking references.
  • Work availability requirement: for the participant to make themselves available for interview and work immediately. Up to 48 hours preparation time can be permitted for interviews and 1 month for commencement of work.

(Disability Rights UK: http://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/universal-credit-uc)

Advantages and disadvantages for disabled people

Advantages

  • Sick or disabled people who are unable to work for 16 hours or more will be able to work less than 16 hours without time restriction.
  • Those who need to adjust their work hours will also no longer need to face the complexity of moving between in work benefits and tax credits and out of work benefits.

Disadvantages

  • Disabled people who do face extra costs in work will be found ‘fit for work’ and so will be unable to access any extra financial help.
  • Disabled people in low pay jobs might therefore be at a disadvantage due to the extra costs of work.

(Citizens Advice Bureau: http://bit.ly/1wknkfA)

When?

The scheme was launched in part in April 2013 and is now being launched more fully across the UK. It should be offered in some way across Britain by the end of 2016 with the scheme being fully available by the end of 2017. See here for a full timetable: https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/universal-credit-start-dates)

Analysis

The government and the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, have said that the structural changes are intended to ‘make work pay’ and to simplify the benefit system. The new system is also meant to give people a closer experience of receiving a wage and improve personal money management.

Duncan Smith has said that universal credit is £600m under budget having faced earlier claims that it was far over budget.

However universal credit has also been criticised. The shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Rachel Reeves, said it would take more than 1,500 years to roll out universal credit to all claimants if the current rate was maintained.  ‘Iain Duncan Smith promised one million people would be claiming Universal Credit by April 2014. But the latest figures show only 26,940 people on the new benefit. At this rate it will take 1,571 years to roll out Universal Credit.’ (The Independent: http://ind.pn/1BNmeug)

Many have also criticised the scheme for going over budget and not being delivered on time.

Aside from the delivery, people are also wary that the ‘broad brush’ approach may leave less for people with more complex needs. In addition, by centring universal credit online there is a criticism that it marginalises those who may not have internet access or those whose IT skills are less developed, such as some disabled people and some elderly people.