But of course flexing a few rules, moving resources around and making temporary changes does nothing to resolve the deep and entrenched issues that many of us see, experience or help to resolve in “normal times”. And while such issues may be having less impact now, they still remain, and they will again become the front page stories once our invisible enemy has departed these shores.
So let's use this time to think the unthinkable, to say the unsayable and to see if we can use these strange times to make bold and significant changes to the things we started to see as normal; because if returning to normal means seeing a benefit system drive people into unsustainable work, if it means seeing vulnerable members of our communities excluded from claiming what they are entitled to and if it means seeing benefit cut simply because people have too many bedrooms or perversely too many children then I don’t want it.
It is only a couple of months into lockdown but I am starting to see some trends and starting to think what lessons might we learn when all this is over. Universal Credit clearly works, the majority can apply on line and get payments in reasonable time the system works for most and in fact my colleagues have not seen a spike in requests for support to claim UC. Yet the vast majority of working people forced onto UC have been able to apply successfully.
Coming back to the unthinkable, the unsayable, one system for all just does not work. Could we have 2 benefit systems? UC for those in work, those able and engaged in seeking work and those that choose it, and then US for those not quite ready for the workplace. US (Universal Support) would then deal with this cohort using an approach not focused on work at all costs and would support people to get onto and manage UC and then they move into work. DWP Work Coaches are great at getting people into work, they are not so successful at getting people the support they need.
Universal Credit might be the benefit for a country in a crisis, but it is not the benefit for a claimant in a crisis. Perhaps these strange times can tell us too many people are still falling through the net and a much better system of support and assistance to live in the modern world needs to be developed.