Since 2013, when Universal Credit was introduced, we have been working to understand exactly what this new type of benefit will mean for disabled people. Universal Credit replaces six means-tested benefits which are also often referred to as legacy benefits, We have been campaigning alongside other organisations to ensure that Universal Credit does not negatively affect disabled people, who represent around 36% of those who are likely to be transitioned across. Some of our concerns are that many disabled people will be financially worse off under Universal Credit, have difficulty navigating and accessing the application process, and the disruptive 5 week wait before Universal Credit is paid.
But over the weekend it was reported that there could be changes to the planned roll-out of Universal Credit across the country. If this weekend’s reports prove to be true, this could mark a significant shift in government’s position and narrative on Universal Credit.
Instead of seeking Parliamentary approval to mass migrate everyone still claiming legacy benefits across to Universal Credit before 2023, it is rumoured that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Amber Rudd) would only seek approval for a test of 10,000 people to be transferred across. After that, it is said that she will review the trial, make any necessary changes, before going on to seek Parliamentary approval to move the remainder of claimants across. However, we are still yet to hear this officially confirmed by her Department.
But what could this report actually mean for disabled people?
Well, for a start it means that if the migration process is not working as well as it could, or is still leaving disabled people significantly worse off, Parliament would be able to stop mass migration of all remaining claimants until it was satisfied that the government had made necessary changes to Universal Credit.
It would also give us more time to ensure that Parliamentarians know what affect Universal Credit has on disabled people, and work to support them to hold the government to account, and to make the right changes to ensure that disabled people are not negatively impacted.
This also could mark a very different approach to rolling out Universal Credit from the government. This is important because it might show that the Secretary of State is more willing to listen to the people affected by the policy and ensure that roll out happens in the right way, rather than ploughing on in order to meet the Department’s targets, with little care for the effect on the people the policy is meant to support.
However, there is still the continued downside of natural migration, which is a little talked about subject that deserves more attention. Natural migration to Universal Credit happens when a change of circumstances, such as moving house to a different local authority area, starting or stopping a claim based on a disability, or even moving into part time work, would trigger a new claim to Universal Credit instead of legacy benefits. The issue with natural transition is that people may see a sudden drop in income, because transitional protection payments that top up your income when being migrated by the government, would not apply. We must not ignore natural migration, particularly given that many claimants may end up naturally migrating through no fault of their own, and this is something that we will continue to campaign on.
However, there is still a long way to go before Universal Credit is right for disabled people. The Department’s shift in attitude though does give us hope that people, rather than targets, will soon be at the heart of Universal Credit.
Find out more about our campaigns work on welfare benefits here.