I don’t believe it is currently fit for purpose and I agree starting managed migration of millions of existing claimants will turn UC into the new Poll Tax. Maybe it should already have been but there are many principles I think are right – like aiming to make work pay, putting multiple benefits into one place, and enabling it to cope with fluctuating incomes. Let’s not look back fondly on the old system and the benefits trap(s) that came with it.
But UC has been implemented incredibly badly. (And building in cuts was never the plan – something even Iain Duncan Smith, with all the false assumptions he endorsed as architect of UC, agrees. So it’s good to hear the government are planning to put more back in.)
It needs dismantling and re-assembling one element at a time. Like a systemic Rubik’s Cube. And I believe there is no better place to start than with the single household payment.
The idea was that all UC claims in each household would be paid to one individual. It is confusing what the government even means by that. Non-dependent, adult children? Interesting. But other dependents and even lodgers too? Even one payment between couples assumes a lot.
The days of a home only having one breadwinner is no longer the norm and people have a right to their independence. If an employer had two staff from one family, it wouldn’t pay one for both their hours. And I’d expect them to land in court, if they did.
Quids in! is now actively opposed to this element of UC, especially when it comes to people at risk. For households where domestic abuse takes place, a single household payment can only make things worse for victims.
Abuse does not always result in bruises. It can include mental cruelty or bullying. Women’s Aid defines it as “an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer.” Financial abuse is where one party controls the other by withdrawing their freedom to earn or spend as they choose. It can also include running up debts in someone else’s name or forcing them to commit crime to obtain money.
In July, a House of Commons committee made up of MPs looking into the issue found that abusers “can take charge of the entire household budget, leaving survivors and their children dependent on the abusive partner for all of their basic needs.” It also described the need for the government to prevent this as a “moral duty”. Women’s Aid welcomed the report and called for payments to be “split by default”, something being explored by the Scottish Government. It’s the only solution.
Quids in! has reported on UC, and I have blogged about it, since it was announced in 2010. We have worked with advisers as the system has been rolled out and published a Guide to help claimants find their way through it. Four in five claimants get on okay with UC but our aim is to help reduce the number whose claims are delayed or cancelled.
Many problems were not intended but reflect some false assumptions about the lives of people dependent on benefits. Often they are not online. Often they don’t use a bank account and nor do they have savings to fall back on. And sometimes they don’t know how to cope with payments (now including their rent money) made once a month in arrears.
We’re pretty good at finding the work arounds – the life hacks to sidestep the pitfalls of moving onto UC. But we’re struggling with single household payments when it comes to financial abuse.
The DWP says anyone can ask for their UC payment to be paid separately, through an APA (Alternative Payment Arrangement), if they are at risk. They do not need their partner’s consent. But this doesn’t make any sense. For many people living with abuse, doing anything that looks like taking back control can make matters much, much worse.
Expecting a victim to casually blow the whistle is naïve and dangerous.
We’ve decided we need to call for the government to totally rethink this element of UC. Quids in! is backing a call by Women’s Aid to think again and end the single household payment element of Universal Credit.