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How Universal Credit is failing people in vulnerable situations: new Z2K report evidences need for urgent reforms

03 December 2020

New comprehensive research launched today by anti-poverty charity Z2K reveals the devastating impact that Universal Credit is having on some of those in the most vulnerable situations.

Over 2 million people currently on legacy benefits are at risk of being unwittingly switched onto UC at any time as a result of natural migration.

Many of these people will lose out financially and face harm as a result of the UC system’s failings. This is of particular importance for the 1.5 million disabled people in the ESA Support Group who would suffer if pushed onto Universal Credit as it stands.

The new report demonstrates, with the removal of disability premiums in UC, many people pushed onto UC from legacy benefits find themselves significantly worse off.

But it also stresses that It is not just the inadequate financial support that is detrimental, but also the design of the system itself, which means UC fails to support people in more complex and vulnerable situations.

Pointing to the DWP’s own research that shows that UC is not working for one in five people, the Z2K report demonstrates that many people:

  • struggle to access and manage their claim via the digital by default system;
  • are subject to punitive deductions as a result of high levels of DWP error and maladministration;
  • are at threat of punishing sanctions because of unsuitable commitments;
  • struggle with inflexible assessment and payment systems; and
  • receive a lack of information, support, and adequate communication from the DWP.

The report puts forward detailed recommendations, grounded in the experience of people receiving Universal Credit, on the following themes:  

  • ensure UC works for the people receiving it;
  • provide people on UC with  a sufficient income;
  • improve the experience of people  out of work on UC;
  • reverse the damage of bad  design decisions;
  • create a more user-friendly and supportive system.

To protect more people from its potential harm, until the recommendations are implemented, Z2K says that the DWP must:

  • pause the managed and natural migration onto UC;
  • allow people to choose whether they want to stay on legacy benefits or move onto UC; and
  • ensure transitional protection for everyone moving from legacy benefits to UC.

Becca Stacey Z2K’s Policy and Campaigns Officer says:

“As these findings demonstrate, people with complex needs and in more vulnerable situations are currently being treated as collateral damage by the DWP, as they continue to push people from legacy benefits onto Universal Credit.

Before anyone else is migrated onto Universal Credit, it is vital that the system undergoes fundamental reform.”

Ken Butler DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser said:

“Z2K has produced an excellent, timely report on the damage Universal Credit has caused and the urgent need for its widespread reform. The report is bolstered by provides in-depth interviews with 15 of its clients who share their experiences of UC and that highlight again and again its systemic flaws.

DR UK supports its many recommendations and will work with Z2K and other colleagues in the Disability Benefits Consortium to make them a reality.”

Z2K’s report Blunt, Bureaucratic and Broken - How Universal Credit is failing people in vulnerable situations is available from z2k.org.