What is the future for Universal Credit?

future for UC

Ian Davidson predicts minimal changes in this guest blog

With the political & media classes reigniting debate on UC (as here in the Guardian) – perhaps as “light relief” from Brexit – here is my own brief analysis of this latest round of discussion:

Whilst any public discussion about “stopping” UC is welcome, it would appear that most commentators are only asking for the “managed migration” process, i.e. the second phase of the “roll-out” due to commence in July 2019 to be halted. As explained in the Guardian article above, this is the phase where existing claimants of old style benefits would start to be “migrated” on to UC (i.e. you will be “invited” to claim UC, and will have no choice if you wish to continue on income-related benefits). They also appear to be asking for the original “goodies” in UC, e.g. the “work allowances” and uprating which were taken out in the 2015 budget, to be re-instated before this second stage roll-out begins. Unless I am misinterpreting, I don’t hear any mainstream call for the whole concept of UC to be scrapped or for the current first phase roll-out (all “new” claimants for income-related type benefits to claim UC by Dec 2018) to be stopped, scrapped, halted or whatever. However, if there are changes to UC such as the re-instatement of work allowances, then the claimants who are already on UC will presumably benefit.

The present government can, with relative ease, respond to some of these new demands whilst not giving way on the principle of UC. The July 2019 start for second-stage roll-out is flexible (as has the first roll-out been), and no-one is going to complain if the second stage roll out start is further delayed and implemented even more gradually. Likewise no-one is going to complain if the work allowances etc. are re-instated and some form of uprating in line with inflation introduced. No-one is going to complain if the migration of existing tax credits claimants (perhaps the most politically sensitive group) is left alone for a while, even until after the next UK General Election. No-one is going to complain if local authorities and the Scottish Government are given some more monies for mitigation, alongside further “tweaking” of claims administration, a “lighter” touch to sanctions etc.

Any positive changes to UC are good news. However, it is too early to celebrate, as the government will probably make just sufficient changes to survive politically whilst retaining the core principles of UC. The need for claimant advice, appeals, legal challenges, foodbanks and political campaigns will continue as UC is “rolled-out” with slightly slower speed and slightly improved presentation.


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