A PETITION to fix the “design flaws” of the Universal Credit system in the UK to stop recipients from falling further into poverty has been backed by two Church of England bishops.
The petition, which is to be delivered to 10 Downing Street in the run-up to the Autumn Budget, is the latest to have been brought by the End Hunger UK coalition, which includes the Trussell Trust, Church Action on Poverty, and Oxfam (News, 2 February; 22 December 2017).
The petition, which has been signed by more than 6000 people, calls on the Government to respond to evidence that foodbank use has soared in areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out.
Universal Credit was introduced by the Conservative-led coalition Government in 2013 to replace six means-tested benefits.
A report from the Resolution Foundation this month suggests that the two key advantages of introducing Universal Credit — improved financial incentives and increased take-up — have been undermined by subsequent budget cuts, roll-out delays, payment problems, and financial hardships for applicants.
The author of the report, David Finch, explains: “Resolution Foundation research has shown that more working families with children will lose entitlement ,1.8 million) than gain in UC (1.4 million), and that it does very little to improve financial incentives — particularly for single parents and for second earners.”
The report urges the Government to rectify the negative reputation of Universal Credit, which it says is deterring potential recipients from claiming. This should be done by “rebooting” Universal Credit before the six-benefit system is scrapped entirely, and by restoring some of the budget cuts.
Plans for this “managed migration” of all people in receipt of benefits to Universal Credit, about seven million people, are due to be given in the Autumn budget, in November. The transition, due to be completed in 2023, must be “smooth and fair”, Mr Finch says.
Bishops have campaigned for a reform of the welfare system for some time (News, 17 April and 28 February 2014). The latest petition has been supported by the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, and the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Trevor Willmott.
Bishop Butler said: “I support the principle and direction of Universal Credit; however, more and more families have had to turn to foodbanks following its introduction, and are reporting unintended delays, lack of digital support, poor administration, and a lack of flexibility in the system. All these problems can and should be resolved.
Universal Credit has also been criticised by Archbishop Welby. In a Q&A session after his keynote speech to the Trade Union Congress last Wednesday, he said: “It has left too many people worse off than they were, and leave people at a heightened risk of hunger — can you believe that we say this in England in the 21st century? — debt, arrears, foodbanks.
“If they cannot get it right they need to stop rolling it out: because we must have people with adequate incomes to live without poverty.”