Universal Credit: What Is It and Will You Be Better Off?

Universal CreditWith the Brexit palaver already turning up the heat on Theresa May’s position in 10 Downing Street, what she doesn’t need right now is another ‘crisis’ of confidence in her stewardship.

But she faces yet another ‘House of Commons revolt’ after Esther McVey inadvertently contradicted the party line over Universal Credit, the new benefits system that will streamline welfare into one single payment.

The idea is that it will ultimately help families and singletons with their finances, giving them the financial help needed.

Unfortunately, McVey – the work & pensions secretary – went wholly off-message this week when she confirmed that some families will actually be worse off under the new rules.

Many Conservatives have openly voiced their concerns about the system, which will affect roughly four million people from July 2019 onwards.

Now, several key political figures – including Iain Duncan-Smith and Gordon Brown – have spoken out in criticism of the policy, with the former prime minister predicting chaos on a par with the poll tax riots.

So What is Universal Credit?

The Universal Credit will replace and integrate several strains of benefits funds into one monthly payment. These include Child Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support and Working Tax Credit.

As ever, whether you will be able to claim for Universal Credit will depend on various things, including whether you live in an ominously-titled ‘full service area’, if you are classified as a carer, or have medical evidence to confirm that you have limited capability to hold down a job (not that that always stops them from forcing the ill and the infirm back to work, of course!).

Others, including those in full-time training or education, may also be eligible for Universal Credit.

There is more information on the Gov.uk website, including a handy benefits calculator that will help you to work out how much you will get and why. All of the information regarding how to make a claim is there too.

What is the Controversy About?

The concept behind Universal Credit is that it is fair system that will ultimately give many people and families in the UK a touch more financial stability.

That’s the idea: the reality might be slightly different, if Esther McVey’s interview with the BBC this week is anything to go by.

She admitted that Universal Credit will leave some families ‘worse off’ then before, which is in direct opposition to Theresa May’s assertion that UC is a more beneficial system for all.

“I’ve said we made tough decisions. Some people will be worse off,” she said. “Under the old system, 700,000 people didn’t get £285 a month, so they didn’t get the money they were owed. Under the old system the most vulnerable in society weren’t getting as much money as we are now going to give them.”

The Guardian has also reported that one unnamed Conservative MP has said the party is concerned that Brexit negotiations are taking top priority and that Universal Credit is being ignored in key constituencies.

“This is especially so in marginal seats – it’s like the poll tax,” the MP is quoted as saying. “It’s a good principle, but the implementation must be generous. If not, there’s a huge risk of a backlash.

“No one is focusing on it properly because of Brexit.”

Critics of Universal Credit

When the former work & pensions secretary is in the public domain questioning the integrity of a new policy roll-out, you know something is amiss.

Iain Duncan Smith was the originator of Universal Credit before his resignation in 2016, and he believes that in its present guise the system cannot work.

IDS, who was at one point tipped for the top job at 10 Downing Street, has urged the chancellor, Phillip Hammond, to pour more funds into UC to ensure there isn’t a shortfall.

His one-time political nemesis, Gordon Brown, wrote in The Mirror this week that ‘it is now time to abandon the national roll-out of the disastrous benefit-cutting universal credit’.

“From next July when three million more families begin to be herded on to universal credit, our country will face the kind of chaos we have not seen since the days of the hated poll tax,” he continued.

And the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, has confirmed that Labour would scrap Universal Credit if they were to be successful at the next General Election.

“It’s not a system that can work. It’s not a system that’s providing the safety net that people expect when they need support,” he said.

“I think we’re moving to a position now where it’s just not sustainable, it’ll have to go.”