An insight into the “fair and simplistic” Universal Credit

Job Centre PlusAt the Conservative Party conference in 2010 Ian Duncan Smith announced a new system that would deliver social security across the UK which he boasted would bring “fairness and simplicity” named Universal Credit (UC). As someone who is going through the process of claiming for UC, I can vouch for it being neither fair nor simple. After badly fracturing my ankle in three places, and having an operation, I am set to be off my work for three or four month’s recovery. I am a full-time post-graduate student and work part-time as a waiter to fund my studies. After sending my fit note my employer informed me that due to being a “low earner” I would not be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). I was required to contact the Department of Work and Pensions to claim my SSP. When doing this I was told by the adviser on the phone that UC had been rolled out in my area and I would have to claim by filling in an online application. I was surprised to hear that I was required to go down the UC route and being a Scottish Green Party activist and foodbank volunteer I have seen the impact of UC for myself.

The UC claim is not made as an individual as it is based on household income. This seems to reflect the Conservative Party’s ideology that people should look after themselves and not gain support from The State. It further assumes that my partner is able to support me after his own financial commitments. SSP was a benefit that traditionally provided an individual with financial support whilst they were off sick. This has now been merged into UC along with Jobseeker’s Allowance, Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit and a variety of Income Support benefits.

The online process is farcical as the extensive online forms take around thirty minutes to complete – that is, if you have the computer skills, access to a computer and the internet. The forms require be filled in once by claimant and repeating the process for a partner who, in my case, is not claiming anything. You are expected to navigate the forms autonomously, risking sanctions or delayed payments if the information provided is incorrect, which takes all responsibility from Job Centre staff and places it solely on the claimant. This could cause anxiety or barriers to those who do not have the ability or the confidence to complete the application alone. This is not an inclusive approach and support can only be accessed from a centralised call centre or from volunteers in organisations such as the Citizens Advice Bureau. Furthermore, my first payment date is on the 14th of March but no one has advised me on how much I am set to receive or even if I should expect anything at all.

As part of the initial process and as a means to prevent fraudulent claims I was required to successfully complete an online ID verification process. This activity proved to be the most problematic and frustrating part of the entire claim process. It failed to identify me even though I have a passport, driving licence, bank accounts, a telephone bill and answered five security questions about my credit history. I had to abandon the online verification and book an appointment with the local Job Centre in order to have my identification physically verified.

It is significant that the online ID verification system is provided by seven different private companies: Barclays, CitizenSafe, Digidentity, Experian, Post Office, Royal Mail and SecureIdentity. Out of the four recommended to me, none of them were successful in verifying my identity. As a society, we are reminded by our Government that we are living in times of Austerity yet it seems to be quite acceptable for the Conservatives to tender out to seven different private companies, each of which offered an inefficient service. A service so lacking that it failed to identify a person who has appropriate ID, has lived at his address for over three years and who is on the voters roll. When I attended my ID verification interview I asked the agent if the online system is successful for any claimants and she replied “hardly ever”. This is scandalous and should not be allowed to continue whilst organisations like Barclays profiteer by providing an online service which is not fit for purpose.

I found myself in this system because I work in an industry where precarious working practices are normalised. People who work in the service sector tend to be students, low skilled workers, employees working for the minimum wage and predominately women. It just takes an accident or long-term illness for these employees’ to be left with no financial support and having to turn to UC with its six weeks minimum wait for payment. As a society we need to challenge precarious working practices alongside the ideological social security system designed by the Conservative Party by considering alternatives such as Universal Basic Income.

Brian Finlay MSc Student in Human Resource Management

Twitter: @BSFGreen

His blog #LeftyInABusinessSchool can be found

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4 replies »

  1. That’s a very well written, well presented piece, Brian. One thing which leaps out at me is…………….that you were expected to fill in the initial ‘form’ on line. This presumes that everyone can afford to have a computer, and that everyone is comfortable and efficient at working on a computer, if they have one, especially if that person is not well.
    You really have presented this well, and clearly – a catalogue of non-sense – the hoops you were expected to jump through, and that the job of identification, is given to private companies – thereby costing the government money and also – what about personal data security and privacy?
    And, 6 weeks – I knew about that, we know about it, but does anyone really try to imagine trying to manage for 6 weeks with no income at all?
    Years ago, when I was claiming Unemployment Benefit, I came to the conclusion that someone, somewhere, had worked out, to a nicety, exactly how much – or how little – a person could possibly manage on, and how far the system could push someone, before they gave up trying to get their entitlement. And that ‘someone’ was probably paid well, for doing so, too.
    I could manage as long as there wasn’t anything extra, such as shoes – thank goodness for jumble sales.
    You’re studying Human Resource Management – there is some irony there, Brian.
    All I can do is commend what you have written , and wish you well – both in recovering from your accident, and managing the morass which is the benefits claim system, these days.
    We pay in when we’re working, we should get help when we can’t work.
    Nye Bevan must be turning in his grave.

    • Absolutely, and as a mature student who paid in on a decent salary for 11 years prior it’s disgusting

      I asked about doing the form over the phone as I’d never claimed anything before and was told no. If you search fir my blog #LeftyInABusinessSchool there is a much more detailed account of what’s going on. It’s just being dragged out now as I’m still no where near the end of my journey! Crazy!

  2. a lot of people have trouble reading or using a pc, and the people who are on universal credit , will have trouble getting payed monthly , and trying to make it last , also all bills dont appear on the same day as the credit or same mth . but then the tories kids will not be claiming it , so they are not worried ,

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