Iain Duncan Smith arrives in Downing Street to attend a weekly cabinet meeting on April 8, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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I fear that Universal Credit will leave tenants struggling

Our research demonstrates that people aren’t ready for such significant upheaval.

It is true, that if implemented successfully, Universal Credit will benefit many families, and here at the National Housing Federation we fully support the aims to simplify the benefit system and make work pay. But the risks of getting it wrong are huge.

Ultimately, there is a real possibility of homelessness but at best, families face financial hardship and debt. The knock-on effect of increased rent arrears is landlords experiencing a tighter squeeze on their resources, which in turn threatens their ability to build much needed new, affordable homes. 

We are worried that families already struggling to make ends meet could be put under further pressure when they move onto Universal Credit. Many households face a stark shift from budgeting their income over one or two weeks, to managing a monthly payment, made in arrears. According to our Ipsos MORI survey of working age social housing tenants affected by welfare reform, two-thirds of tenants aren’t confident they could make this transition, leaving them at risk of running out of money before the end of each month. 

The design of the new system assumes almost everyone will apply and make all changes online. Our evidence shows 40 per cent of affected tenants don’t have access to the internet and almost a third (30 per cent) say they would not be confident making a benefit application online.

On top of this, social tenants will lose the option of choosing to have their housing costs paid direct to their landlord, with many having to manage their rent payments for the first time. We welcome financial independence, but giving people responsibility is about giving them choices so they can decide for what works best for them. Why won’t government let tenants choose how to manage their finances when the overwhelming majority of tenants would prefer payments to be made to the landlord? A perfectly sensible choice, which gives peace of mind that their home is secure.

Our research demonstrates that people aren’t ready for such significant upheaval and many are likely to struggle during the transition to the new system. To combat this, there needs to be adequate provision and funding for support services to help people manage the change; people in need of support need to be identified early, before they hit crisis point; and effective safeguards, including an efficient switchback to payments to the landlord, are needed for when things go wrong. 

It is clear that a smooth transition to Universal Credit can’t be achieved without the help, engagement and expertise of housing associations. Our members, housing associations across England, are already doing all they can to support their residents through the changes – providing help to access employment and training, to develop online skills and budgeting support. But housing associations are hampered by not knowing when Universal Credit is going to affect them and their tenants – the lack of a clear timetable makes it impossible to plan for and deliver the support and resources that are going to be needed.

Apparently there could be as many as 7 million claimants moving to Universal Credit over the next few years. That is a huge undertaking. Every one of these claimants will depend on the transition being smooth and efficient. I can find no one who is fully confident that will be the case.  If we are to avoid soaring arrears, acute hardship and people being left without food then no corners can be cut. Getting this wrong is just not an option.

David Orr is chief executive of the National Housing Federation

David Orr is Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation.

Photo: Getty
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Why is Marine Le Pen getting more popular?

The latest French polls have people panicked. Here's what's going on. 

In my morning memo today, I wrote that Emmanuel Macron, who is campaigning in London today – the French émigré population makes it an electoral prize in of itself – was in a good position, but was vulnerable, as many of his voters were “on holiday” from the centre-left Socialist Party and the centre-right Republican Party, and he is a relatively new politician, meaning that his potential for dangerous gaffes should not be ruled out.

Now two polls show him slipping. Elabe puts him third, as does Opinionway. More worryingly, Marine Le Pen, the fascist Presidential candidate, is extending her first round lead with Elabe, by two points. Elabe has Le Pen top of the heap with 28 per cent, Republican candidate François Fillon second with 21 per cent, and Macron third with 18.5 per cent. Opinionway has Le Pen down one point to 26 per cent, and Macron and Fillon tied on 21 per cent.
(Under the rules of France’s electoral system, unless one candidate reaches more than half of the vote in the first round, the top two go through to a run-off. All the polls show that Marine Le Pen will top the first round, and have since 2013, before losing heavily in the second. That’s also been the pattern, for the most part, in regional and parliamentary elections.)

What’s going on? Two forces are at play. The first is the specific slippage in Macron’s numbers. Macron ended up in a row last week after becoming the first presidential candidate to describe France’s colonisation of Algeria as a “crime against humanity”, which has hurt him, resulting in a migration of voters back to the main centre-right candidate, François Fillon, which is why he is back in third place, behind Le Pen and Fillon.

Le Pen has been boosted by a bout of rioting following the brutal arrest of a 22-year-old black man who was sodomised with a police baton.

As I’ve written before, Le Pen’s best hope is that she faces a second round against the scandal-ridden Fillon, who is under fire for employing his wife and children in his parliamentary office, despite the fact there is no evidence of them doing any work at all. She would likely still lose – but an eruption of disorder on the streets or a terrorist attack could help her edge it, just about. (That’s also true if she faced Macron, so far the only other candidate who has come close to making it into the second round in the polling.)

For those hoping that Macron can make it in and prevent the French presidency swinging to the right, there is some good news: tomorrow is Wednesday. Why does that matter? Because Le Canard Enchaîné, the French equivalent of Private Eye which has been leading the investigation into Fillon is out. We’ve known throughout the election that what is good for Fillon is bad for Macron, and vice versa. Macron’s Algeria gaffe has helped Fillon – now Macron must hope that Fillon’s scandal-ridden past has more gifts to give him. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.