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Have the DWP’s Covid 19 support measures been effective?: new SSAC report

23 November 2020

The Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) has published a detailed report reviewing the effectiveness of thetemporary social security measures that have been introduced by the DWP during the Covid 19 pandemic.

Its review also explores the degree to which they could be refined further, or improved, as the Government may consider transitioning some of them into a longer-term or permanent approach.

DR UK was one of the organisations that gave evidence to the review.

The SSAC says:

Our review has evidenced a number of critical successes by DWP and Department for Communities in Northern Ireland (DfC), in responding to the challenges of the pandemic, most notably the huge increase in the number of claims for Universal Credit, which showed the system to be performing remarkably well under pressure by:

  • rapidly adapting the claim process
  • suspending conditionality and the Minimum Income Floor (MIF)
  • expediting payment
  • providing a £20 per week uplift in the Standard Allowance

While our review has reaffirmed the necessity and impact of the Departments’ emergency measures, we have also found issues that should be addressed to further sustain this positive impact.”

SSAC make recommendations under the following six themes:

Conditionality and the unwinding of the easements

The overarching area of concern identified through SSAC’s review was the reinstatement of conditionality for claimants. It highlights how important it will be for conditionality to be flexible in response to individual and local circumstances. This will require the Government to provide and publish strategic policy guidance on what the appropriate flexibilities should be that work coaches can then implement through local discretion.

Communication with claimants and stakeholders

SSAC recommend that DWP and DfC continue to work on providing timely updates to claimants and support organisations on the COVID-19 related changes that are being made. This includes developing a communications strategy, and tracking its outcomes, to help identify whether or why individuals may be disengaging with, or dropping out of, the social security system.

Determinations in an environment of social distancing

SSAC welcome the commitment by DWP to retain the telephone PIP, ESA and UC assessments during the pandemic, and their recognition of the need for research.

This will assist in evaluating the impact of such assessments to inform future decisions on whether to retain them beyond the pandemic, creating a feedback loop to see how or if such measures can support other DWP and DfC priorities. SSAC also recommends that DWP and DfC establish maximum time periods during which face-to-face assessments and decisions will take place.

Clarifications to rules and easements

SSAC welcome the suspension of the Minimum Income Floor (MIF) and the introduction of the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) have provided good support to claimants. It raises concerns however, around how claimants will manage if the UC uplift is removed and how SEISS payments can affect UC due to inconsistency over whether payments are treated as capital or earnings.

Housing exemptions

In the absence of the benefit cap being removed, SSAC recommends that the 9 or 12 month exemption before the benefit cap is made more generous as continuously earning above the threshold will have been more difficult for many in recent months.

SSAC also recommends expanding the exemption to the Single Adult Rate for under-35s or emergency accommodation to include housing in the private rented sector and that these measures are retained for the duration of the pandemic. Local Housing Allowance rates should also continue to be related to local rent levels beyond the pandemic.

Other issues, including eligibility and award values

The SSAC says that the £20 week UC uplift has been a welcome form of support for claimants, But it recommends that if part or all of the UC uplift is retained, then there should be an equivalent uplift for those on ESA and JSA and clarification on whether claimants would be better or worse off on UC.

The Department should also review the support available to carers in recognition of the increased necessity and role of informal caring and that should include a review of Carer’s Allowance and Carer Premium (in legacy benefits).

The full SSAC report - A review of the COVID-19 temporary measures: occasional paper 24is available from gov.uk.