House of Lords Recommends Improvements To Universal Credit System

Written by: Posted on: 7 August 2020

The House of Lords has considered a report by The Salvation Army, as well as evidence that was given at the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee and recommended important changes to Universal Credit that will better support those in society who need it most. The report issued by the committee addresses shortcomings that push people further into debt and poverty.

The Salvation Army works on the ground with people who depend on Universal Credit and see first-hand the effects of applicants who must weather the five-week waiting period, and the strain on work coaches with unmanageable caseloads.

Recommendations

The Salvation Army recommended that the investigation committee reconsider the five-week waiting period so claimants aren’t forced to incur additional debt to keep poverty at bay. It also recommended that additional work coaches be brought into the system so that they can give claimants the proper attention that they need.

Furthermore, a recently released report, Understanding Benefits and Mental Health: A national rethink on how government supports vulnerable people moving onto Universal Credit, highlights the difficulties that people with mental health issues have when trying to access Universal Credit.

The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee did indeed consider these issues and made several recommendations, including doubling the number of work coaches and replacing the five-week waiting period with an initial one-off grant.
Matthew Sowemimo, head of the Public Affairs Unit for The Salvation Army, gave evidence to the Economic Affairs Committee, referring to the waiting period as a ‘poverty trap’. Upon the report’s release, he said that The Salvation Army is grateful that it was given the opportunity to contribute to the changes.

Sowemimo said, “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.”

Work coaches drowning in cases

In July, The National Audit Office (NAO) revealed that, as of February 2020, each work coach has an average of 125 active cases. According to the NAO, the situation is only going to get worse, with each work coach facing over 3733 active cases once Universal Credit is fully rolled out.

Doubling the number of work coaches will go a long way towards relieving the pressure. It may even help lower the number of cases to the manageable 50 on each Salvation Army coach’s desk.

As grateful as The Salvation Army is for the changes, it would like to see even more made, including clearer signposting to support systems claimants need during the early stages claiming and receiving benefits. The church and charity is also calling for increased protection against homelessness.

You can get further information on the report issued by the Economic Affairs Committee, as well as The Salvation Army’s reports by following the links below:
The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee report:
https://committees.parliament.uk/work/31/the-economics-of-universal-credit/news/147638/substantial-reform-of-universal-credit-needed-to-protect-the-most-vulnerable/

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

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

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