Introduced in the Welfare Reform Act 2012, Universal Credit (UC) brought six benefits - Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit, Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA), Child Tax Credit, Income Support and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) together into one payment.
Initially proposed in a 2009 report by the Centre for Social Justice, a think tank established by Conservative MP Ian Duncan Smith, it outlined a model of more personalised, localised and extended support for those making the effort to engage in work. UC aimed to make the social security system more straightforward and to remove the distinction between out-of and in-work support.
Recipients would be eligible for financial aid based on circumstances and accommodation needs, assessed via online forms and an interview where they would be required to agree to a claimant commitment identifying which activities they would carry out regularly in order to receive UC. Paid monthly, the first payment would take around 5/6 weeks to be issued however there would be provision to apply for an advance to help with living costs.
Recipients would be able to work whilst claiming UC with no limit on the number of hours - how much UC awarded would be dependent on earnings and gradually reduce as earnings rose. The main goal of the policy was to reduce the number of workless households by ensuring that work paid.
However, from the beginning of its roll out in 2013, UC has been surrounded by controversy including the complexity of the system, admin errors and delays to payments. These concerns were considered serious enough to warrant a Lords Select Economic Affairs Committee inquiry published in July 2020. Their main findings were:
Universal Credit design:
Managing on Universal Credit:
Employment, sanctions and support:
The findings of the Lords Select Committee confirm the extensive reports of acute hardship, which it is feared, will be exacerbated with the imminent removal of the £20 uplift. The concern is so great, that 100 organisations have urged the Prime Minister to abandon the plans - will they be successful?