House of Lords’ report slams Universal Credit

published on 31 Jul 2020

A new report by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee has found that the Universal Credit system can push people into debt and further poverty. 

The Salvation Army gave evidence at the committee and the report released today includes many of the concerns raised by the church and charity. 

The Salvation Army has repeatedly called for immediate changes be made to Universal Credit; in oral evidence given to the House of Lords investigation, The Salvation Army emphasised that work coaches have excessive caseloads and that claimants with advance payments often struggle to make the repayments. Our evidence also highlighted a recent Salvation Army report1, ‘Understanding Benefits and Mental Health: A national rethink on how government supports vulnerable people moving onto Universal Credit’ which outlined the serious impact that struggling to access the UC system has on mental health on many vulnerable people.  

The House of Lords’ report mirrors many Salvation Army recommendations, including: 

  • Increasing capacity amongst work coaches, giving more time to support claimants needs therefore welcoming the doubling of work coaches
  • That the five-week wait be removed and replaced with an initial one-off grant

Matthew Sowemimo, head of the Public Affairs Unit for The Salvation Army, who gave evidence to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee earlier in the year on the economics of Universal Credit, and is quoted in the report as saying that the five-week wait is a poverty trap said: “The Salvation Army welcomes this report and we are grateful for the opportunity to have contributed to it.

 

There are flaws with Universal Credit which are exacerbating the challenges claimants face. Whether that is a lack of signposting to the support that claimants need at an early stage, or the prospect of incurring debt just to endure the five-week wait.
Matthew Sowemimo, head of the Public Affairs Unit at The Salvation Army

“Claimants need a system geared up to help them at their time of need, not intensify the challenges they face and it’s encouraging to see that the government has made a great start already with the doubling of work coaches.”

In July the National Audit Office (NAO) noted that as of February 2020 each work coach on average oversees 125 cases2. This is in contrast to 50 at The Salvation Army. The NAO previously found in 2018 that each work coach’s caseload is expected to increase to over 3733 as Universal Credit is fully rolled out.

The Salvation Army’s initial submission to the House of Lords was made on 22 May calling for an end to the five-week wait as well as calls for increased protections against homelessness.

Further information:

The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee report can be found at https://committees.parliament.uk/work/31/the-economics-of-universal-credit/news/147638/substantial-reform-of-universal-credit-needed-to-protect-the-most-vulnerable/

1 The Salvation Army Report, February 2020: Understanding Benefits and Mental Health: A national rethink on how government supports vulnerable people moving onto Universal Credit

2 https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Universal-Credit-getting-to-first-payment.pdf

3 https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Rolling-out-Universal-Credit.pdf

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