Consortium Research on Universal Credit Causing Questions on The Hill

Austerity harms women.

The Consortium Research Paper entitled The Impact of Universal Credit on Women has been published and is now available on the Consortium website for download.  Siobhán has also produced a shorter-page summary document to accompany the longer research paper.  This summary is also available for download from the Consortium website.

 

A copy of the paper and summary has been sent to all Consortium members, women’s centres, the Minister for Communities, all the MLAs, the Communities Committee members, the Cliff Edge Coalition, Women’s Budget Group, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and a number of academics who work in the field of social security and poverty.

 

Since it has been published Gerry Caroll MLA has agreed to ask a number of Assembly Questions in relation to some of the recommendations of the paper.  Siobhán has also been asked to speak at a number of forthcoming events about the research findings and recommendations.

 

This research paints an overwhelmingly negative picture of life for women living on Universal Credit fraught with financial insecurity, worry, debt and in some cases cold and hunger. It also highlights how the design of Universal Credit does little to protect women and their children from living on low incomes and poverty.  The main findings are:

 

  • 32% of the women had applied for UC as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.
  • Other than Coronavirus the most common reasons for applying were the birth of a new baby (28%), change of relationship status (18%) and loss/change of job (16%).
  • 37% of the women experienced problems applying for UC which they were able to sort out themselves, 28% experienced lots of problems and needed help to sort these out and 9% felt the process was unmanageable.
  • Almost all of the women reported negative impacts due to the 5-week wait. 31% had borrowed from friends/family, 28% had to cut back on food/essentials, 12% had to borrow from a lender, 9% had to sell possessions and 8% had to use a foodbank.
  • The personal impacts of the 5-week wait were severe with 35% of the women suffering stress/anxiety. Some of the women reported that the 5-week wait had impacted negatively on their children (15%) or that they had felt cold or hungry due to a lack of money (12%).
  • 58% of the women had applied for an Advance Payment and 42% of them experienced difficulties paying it back.
  • 86% of the women had not heard about the UC Contingency Fund and only two women had received help through this Fund.
  • Some of the women felt degraded by the UC process reporting feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem.

 

These findings led to a series of recommendations including:

 

  • In its recovery response Government should apply an intersectional gender lens to social security policy, particularly in relation to UC, to develop policies that specifically support women who have been impacted by the Coronavirus crisis.
  • Government should make the increase to the standard allowance of UC permanent to protect claimants from poverty and ensure they can meet their basic living expenses. Government should also make a further £20/week increase to the child element of UC to specifically support families with children.
  • The UC 5-week wait causes severe hardship, debt and distress and has further consequences for children. Government should end the 5-week wait. While it remains in place Advance Payments should be turned into non-repayable grants instead of loans to help avoid hardship and debt. Locally, the DfC should provide an automatic grant from the UC Contingency Fund for those claiming UC for the first time.
  • The DfC should do more to inform claimants about the help available through the UC Contingency Fund and should work to simplify the process for claiming this help as much as possible.
  • The 2-Child Limit and Benefit Cap disproportionately impact women. Government should remove the 2-Child Limit in UC. Locally, the DfC should provide an additional payment to families impacted by the 2-child limit and extend the Benefit Cap mitigation to all new claimants.
  • Government should enable childcare costs to be paid directly to childcare providers.
  • The process of making/managing UC claims should be more user-friendly with more support for those who struggle with the online process, staff should be well trained and sufficiently resourced and independent advice should be freely available.

 

Due to the pandemic and lockdown measures it was much more challenging to carry out research!  Siobhán would like to thank all the women who spoke to her about their experiences or who completed online questionnaires and also thank the Women’s Centres and Consortium members who helped in any way with the research.

 

You can read the full research paper and the accompanying summary document on the Women’s Regional Consortium website here:

 

http://www.womensregionalconsortiumni.org.uk/node/150