Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. Welfare
18 October 2017updated 15 Jun 2018 9:42am

The many, many reasons Universal Credit is not fit for purpose

The New Statesman guide to a welfare overhaul that is already causing misery.

By New Statesman

The New Statesman has been documenting the many problems associated with Universal Credit, the controversial reform of the benefits system designed to combine myriad types of welfare into one payment. 

From the devastating human cost of delayed payments and mistakes, to the chaos engulfing those responsible for administering the benefit, here are some of the many reasons why Universal Credit, at least in its current form, is not fit for purpose:

The car crash of Universal Credit is an omen for Brexit

It’s hideously expensive, pointless – but the real problem, its architect has always claimed, is that the people implementing it just didn’t believe enough. Remind you of anything?

“I’m not a criminal, but I have to commit crimes to survive”: the reality of Universal Credit

Without foodbanks, clients admit they would be forced to steal or turn to prostitution as “benefits fail to cover living costs”.

My Universal Credit diary: “With six days to go, I have nothing left”

“I spent today in bed. I need to save my food parcel for the kids as I only get the size designed for a single person.”

Select and enter your email address Your new guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture each weekend - from the New Statesman. A quick and essential guide to domestic politics from the New Statesman's Westminster team. A weekly newsletter helping you understand the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email. Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

The Universal Credit flaw forcing patients to risk a £50 prescription fine

The NHS has not caught up with the sprawling nightmare that is Universal Credit.

Content from our partners
The UK needs SMEs to reach net zero
To truly tackle regional disparities, we need a new type of devolution
How smart meters helped a business thrive

A woman with no resources is a woman who can’t leave: why universal credit is a feminist issue

By putting control of the household income in the hands of one individual and imposing lengthy assessment periods on people in crisis conditions, universal credit is giving support to abusers, and removing options from survivors.

What happens when you have to wait four months for Universal Credit?

“It makes you feel upset, it makes you feel depressed, because at the end of the day, you don’t have anything to support yourself with, and you’re seeing more and more money [owed], so you’re like, ok, who am I going to call?” he asks. “I haven’t got any parents, what am I meant to do? It does make you stressed.”

I was under 18 when I claimed Universal Credit – delays almost left me homeless

“I was one of the ‘lucky’ people to be a Universal Credit claimant in an early roll-out location,” writes a young claimant. “In other words, I got to experience a lot of the early flaws of the system first-hand.”

“It destroyed every ounce of life that I had”: how Universal Credit is pushing people to beg for money online

“It just felt hugely degrading,” says Heather, a 40-year-old single mother who claims UC and set up a GoFundMe page. “It was just somehow easier to put it on the internet and ask strangers to help me than it was to ask anybody that I knew.”

As a Universal Credit case manager, my job is turning away those in abject poverty

“I see masses of suffering on a daily basis,” an anonymous case manager writes. “Case managers are well trained to deal with any claimants threatening suicide either by phone or by journal message, due to the recurrence… Those who have worked in Universal Credit since the early days have become hardened, having dealt with thousands of vulnerable people. It’s very difficult to tell claimants, ‘I’m sorry but we can’t give you any more’, even if we know that children will suffer and go hungry for weeks.”

“It’s disrespectful”: Universal Credit claimants have to pay to call the benefits helpline

“If you’re actually really broke, you can’t find out what’s going on, you can’t contact anyone, you can’t do anything. So I think it’s a bit disrespectful that they’re actually charging you for phone calls. It should be a free service.”

“Absolute hell”: what it’s like working on the front line of the Universal Credit roll-out

“I would say – pause the roll-out immediately,” says a DWP worker worried about staff training and morale. “Going back isn’t an option. You pause it, and start recruiting sufficient staff to make it work.”

The Universal Credit small print that could hit part-time working mums

Under Universal Credit, it’s not enough to be in work. You have to be earning a certain amount as well. This small print could affect millions of part-time workers and second earners, often working mums. The rule seems likely to just remind them that they are not good enough, at least in the eyes of the DWP.

I’m a single working mum – Universal Credit forced me to go to the food bank

The first person testimony of one of those part-time working mums. She writes: “I couldn’t sleep all night – I just lay there panicking. I was trying to think, what bills do I have that I can miss paying?”

Down the Universal Credit rabbit hole – what happened when East Lothian changed benefits systems

This system is not just failing individuals and claimants, but it is also a system failing in objective terms. Martin Whitfield, the MP for East Lothian, a pilot area, writes about the first-hand experiences of his constituents. 

How Universal Credit advance payments can force struggling people into debt

Citizens Advice is on the front line when Universal Credit claims go wrong. The government claims these glitches can be warded off by “advance payments” – but these have to be paid back and, as Citizens Advice’s Kayley Hignell writes, can push vulnerable people into debt. 

Single parent families are already struggling – universal credit is making things worse

The impact should not be underestimated – this is not just about finances, but families’ lives and the emotional stress and turmoil that can follow.

A woman with no resources is a woman who can’t leave: why Universal Credit is a feminist issue

In a couple, Universal Credit is paid to a single bank account, and changes depending on your joint earnings. But what happens if your partner receives a bonus, and doesn’t want to share? 

The Universal Credit nightmare shows there’s nothing more dangerous than a good idea

There’s a cruel double bind here. Most people claim benefits precisely because they are in difficult personal circumstances. They have lost their job, got sick, or broken up with a partner and had to move house. Those same circumstances make dealing with bureaucracy more challenging. When the computer says no, it doesn’t just take away one of half a dozen benefits; it can disrupt the only assistance people are getting.

Universal Credit is sending families to food banks – it must be suspended

In one month alone, a food bank gave three-day food packages to 364 adults and 177 children, the vast majority of which were a result of benefit delays.

DWP letters telling people to call the universal credit helpline are ripping off claimants

“As she put the phone down and I reflected on the call, it felt like a scam. This was the government luring me into unnecessarily phoning up through fear of later being unable to pay for rent, food, bills, and tax.”

Universal credit’s costly helpline exposes the inequality of an online-focused benefits system

“It is mainly poorer households who are least likely to have access to the internet, so the high cost of calling up about universal credit is likely to hit them hardest.”

A false epiphany: Easterhouse reveals the chaos of Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare revolution

“People will misuse their Universal Credit, rightly or wrongly. If it’s [the money] all lumped into one bank account, and only the partner or husband has access – that’s a bad, sorry road.”

Iain Duncan Smith is at risk of wasting billions on the Universal Credit scheme

The DWP expects significant savings from its digital service, but does not yet have a contingency plan should the digital service be delayed or fail.

Universal Credit: the anatomy of a government failure

“From what I know in the context of the reasons for some past IT-related failures, I’d say that Universal Credit is in a worse position than some big programmes because it started, and continued, without senior management having any clear idea how it would work.”