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.

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Labour is getting very, very scared about robots

Forget Brexit, it's the march of the automatons you should be worried about. 

Labour is worried about getting exterminated - and not at the polls. One of the preoccupations of this year's party conference is robots, and the possibility that mechanical devices will soon be replacing Britain's workforce. And fast. 

Norman Pickavance, a Grant Thornton consultant who advised Ed Miliband on employment policy, warned that three different futures loomed, including a "world of extraction" where humans are commoditised, or a "world of robotics and anxiety" (his preferred world was the third, an "age of connections"). Speaking at a Fabian fringe event, he said: "On robotics, I think the changes are coming really quickly."

Yvette Cooper, a former Cabinet minister, concurred. She said: "None of us know quite how fast this could happen, but it could rip through certain areas or sectors."

Next it was the turn of Chuka Umunna, the former shadow business secretary. He may have made headlines at conference for his comments on integration, but it seems he wasn't just talking about the human kind. "There are communities which have a high concentration of a particular industry that we know automation and robots are going to fundmentally impact," he said during a Resolution Foundation event.

So is Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet going to shrug off Brexit and focus on robot wars? The Staggers asked Jon Trickett, shadow secretary of state for business, innovation and skills. And if anything, his view is even more apocalyptic. 

"It is part of the reason we can't go on in the same way," he said. "There are things that have happened to our country that make it difficult to sustain the status quo. Now we have got this innovation process which is about to accelerate. I think thousands of thousands of jobs are under threat.

"I think it's important we don't become Luddites, because this can emancipate people from the drudgery of labour, but at the same time it is important people are not left on the scrap heap."

As for why everyone's talking about it? According to Trickett, this is simply because "it is literally about to happen".

In the age of the robots, politicians must seize power in more ways than one. "Technology can either be our master or our servant," he told The Staggers. "I think we will have to make it our servant."