Lizzie Flew's blog
Universal credit needs fixing. That’s certainly not the first time we’ve said that, but today the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd MP seemed to agree. At a Jobcentre in south London we got our first glimpse of what changes she has planned to make the benefit work better for everyone. Meanwhile, a couple of miles away the High Court announced that we had won our universal credit assessment period case. What do these two things mean for people claiming universal credit?
The United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, completed his 10 day visit in November by concluding that the UK's high child poverty rate was “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one”. Our work campaigning for policies that will prevent and solve poverty, training and advising those who support hard-up families, and mounting legal challenges to protect people’s rights, is as vital as ever.
In our Christmas appeal this year we mentioned Helen*, who we met at our food bank project in Tower Hamlets. Our advice helped Helen and her family get the financial support they needed. But we shouldn’t have met Helen in those circumstances. She shouldn’t have had to go to the food bank in the first place.
The number of children living in poverty in the UK is now at 4.1 million and will reach over 5 million by 2021, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. And children who are in poverty are now living, on average, further below the poverty line than they did 10 years ago. After making great progress at tackling child poverty, we’re now going backwards – at a time when unemployment is at a near historic low. This is cause for great concern, and not just for those in this country.
The proposed new poverty measure released this week by the Social Metrics Commission showed that whether or not you’re in poverty is determined by your income and your costs: not having enough resources to meet your essential costs is a defining feature of poverty. We know there are millions in the UK who are restricted in this way every day – having to go without. But compounding this is the ‘poverty premium’ – the additional costs associated with being poor that exert even more pressure on families who are already struggling.
Today, the Social Metrics Commission (SMC) has published the results of its research into a new way of measuring poverty. You may think that we already have a good way of measuring poverty, and that’s true, so what does this new offering from the SMC add?
Politicians are always concerned about public opinion, and they often seek to shape it. But, despite their efforts, we know that public policy and public opinion do not always match, and two pieces of recent research illustrate this clearly. In July the latest British Social Attitudes Survey was published, and showed strongly that the public thinks the government should financially support those in low paid work.
In the ‘simple’ world of universal credit, monthly assessment periods are the supposedly ‘neat’ way of judging what financial support families should get based on their earnings and circumstances. For example, if someone starts earning more their universal credit is reduced.
It’s time to start listening: what the Department for Work and Pensions needs to learn about universal credit
In the Commons last week, Work and Pensions ministers responded to concerns about universal credit by offering to look at individual constituency cases MPs were raising, where things might not be going quite right. They gave the impression that anything not working was an anomaly – and that they’d listen and fix these cases. What we’re seeing through our Early Warning System, however, is that cases where things go wrong don’t tend to be anomalies – they're the tip of the iceberg.
Latest figures show that child poverty is rising. There are currently 4 million children living in poverty in the UK, and there are projected to be 5.1 million by 2021. While the government doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge this reality, most starkly illustrated by its refusal to discuss the impact of universal credit on child poverty, others are keen to find practical ways to address the problem.