Split universal credit payments between partners to curb abuse

Split universal credit payments between partners to curb abuse, ministers urged

Experts tell MPs single household payments make it easier for domestic abusers to seize and regulate family income

Frank Field
 Frank Field, chair of the committee, says the switch to universal credit had increased the risk of women being bullied by their partners. 

Universal credit payments should be split between the male and female partner in claimant households to minimise the risk of domestic abusers exerting financial control over their victim, MPs have been told.

Experts told the work and pensions select committee that universal credit’s single monthly household payment made it easier for domestic abusers to seize and regulate family income and prevent partners from leaving the home.

Universal credit ‘flaws’ mean thousands will be worse off 

Marilyn Howard, a financial abuse expert at the University of Bristol, told MPs: “Our concern is the one payment of universal credit can concentrate power and resources in the hands of one partner, and that carries the risk that abusers can take advantage.”

Asked by the committee chair, Frank Field, whether the switch to universal credit increased the risk of women being bullied by their partners, Howard replied: “Yes, I believe it would do.”

Witnesses from grassroots domestic violence refuges and charities giving evidence to the committee said the single universal credit payment allowed abuse perpetrators to “distribute family income in the way they see fit”.

Universal credit rolls six working-age benefits into a single monthly payment with the aim of simplifying the social security system. However, MPs heard this in effect “de-labelled” constituent payments, such as child tax credits, that were previously earmarked for children, and paid to the main carer, normally the mother.

Howard said: “With the [universal credit] online system abusers may be a click away, where under previous systems it may have taken more a bit more time and effort to obtain someone’s benefit entitlement.”

Concerns over domestic abuse and universal credit were raised at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, where the the Scottish National party MP Philippa Whitford appealed to the prime minister, Theresa May, to end the practice of single universal credit payments.

May replied that single payments were available on request, but Whitford said changing the claim in this way made women more financially vulnerable. “Eighty-five percent of abuse survivors say they wouldn’t have dared to request single payments as a special measure as it would have worsened abuse.”

This month the family support minister, Kit Malthouse, told the work and pensions committee that it was “completely without foundation” that universal credit would exacerbate domestic violence and insisted that single payments could be made on request.

The committee heard that frontline domestic abuse workers were spending increasing amounts of time trying to sort out universal credit problems for victims of domestic violence, at the expense of the wider direct support they could offer.

Delays and bureaucracy experienced by universal credit claimants had driven some domestic abuse victims back to their abuser, Nicola Kyser-Forrest, the homelessness service manager at Calderdale council, told MPs.

In one case an abuse victim had lost a place in a refuge because it was impossible to get officials to rule whether the woman, an European Economic Area national, qualified for universal credit housing costs.

“We couldn’t speak to anybody to get that confirmation, and so the refuge were unable to offer her a place, knowing that she may not be eligible for assistance. That led to the lady returning to her partner,” she said.

Demelza Lobb, the technology abuse lead at the Refuge charity, said the uncertainty and stress caused by universal credit delays had led to several women going back to their abusive partners. “They say: ‘It might be easier, at least I’ll have an income, I’ll be able to get food,’” she said.

A DWP spokesperson said: “Abuse in any form is completely unacceptable, and Jobcentre Plus staff do everything they can to make sure people fleeing domestic abuse get the help they need as quickly as possible.

“That includes fast tracking advances so that people are not left without money and transferring a person’s claim to a different Jobcentre.”

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Universal Credit ‘loophole’ leaves some people £630 a year worse off

Universal Credit ‘loophole’ leaves some people £630 a year worse off – find out who’s affected
Citizens Advice says a self-employed worker who earned £9,750 a year would be £630 worse off under Universal Credit than an employee with exactly the same circumstance

Universal Credit is punishing self-employed people and leaving them potentially hundreds of pounds worse off than directly employed workers earning the same amount. A damning report reveals one struggling small business owner was forced to shut his firm down because his Universal Credit was slashed as the company grew.

The Citizens Advice charity found that self-employed workers on Universal Credit could receive far less than employees earning the same amount. The charity has also called for a rethink over cuts to the work allowance element of the benefit, given the risk of financial insecurity for Universal Credit claimants.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Despite the labour market changing significantly in the last decade, including a rapid rise in self-employment, Universal Credit is still better suited to those with regular jobs. “The Government has shown it is prepared to act to improve Universal Credit as new facts come to light – an approach we strongly support. “It now needs to look again at the design of the benefit to ensure self-employed and agency workers aren’t left at a financial disadvantage.”

Universal credit ‘flaws’ mean thousands will be worse off

How does it work?
The first of two reports by the charity highlights issues with the minimum income floor, a rule that assumes everyone claiming Universal Credit who has been self-employed for a year or more is earning the national minimum wage (NMW). If they earn less than the NMW one month, their Universal Credit payment will not make up the difference.

However, if their monthly earnings go over the NMW, their benefit payment will be reduced accordingly. The charity says this design flaw is unfair and risks causing financial hardship as self-employed workers often earn different amounts from one month to the next.

Its analysis shows that a self-employed worker who earned £9,750 a year would be £630 worse off under Universal Credit than an employee with exactly the same circumstances.

How are people affected?
One family helped by Citizens Advice had to visit a food bank as a result of having less money to pay their bills because of the policy. In order to get more money through Universal Credit, the father was forced to give up his computing business and stop work altogether, while the mother cut short her maternity leave to return to work.

The second report found that employees could also be at risk of financial insecurity when they move to Universal Credit. One of the largest of a series of cuts to Universal Credit announced in 2015 was to the work allowance, reducing the number of hours people can work before their Universal Credit payment starts to decrease.

Citizens Advice asked 877 people receiving in-work benefits how they would cope with a £100 drop in their monthly income, roughly the average amount affected households stand to lose from the reduced work allowance.

The Reality Of Universal Credit

Some 26% said they would not be able to top up their income through employment even though they might need to, with a third of those saying this is because they work full-time already.

Caring responsibilities (23%) and having a disability (18%) were other reasons workers gave for not being able to make up the £100 shortfall through work. Ms Guy said the Government should also review the work allowance reductions “to ensure workers who can’t increase their income through employment aren’t left struggling to make ends meet”.

She added: “A failure to do this risks undermining two of the core purposes of Universal Credit – to incentivise people to move into and progress in work, and provide low-income families with financial security.”

A DWP spokesman said: “These reports don’t take into account the numerous improvements already made to Universal Credit. [PMSL] a

“The Minimum Income Floor encourages people who aren’t earning enough through self-employment to grow their business or take on more hours in other employment.

“Universal Credit is a flexible benefit that supports people in and out of work, those on low incomes and the self-employed, and it’s succeeding. We know that people on UC are moving into work quicker and staying in work longer than under the old system.”

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Cutting Universal Credit payments to repay ‘debts’ is putting people’s welfare at risk, whatever the DWP may claim

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23:  Volunteer Maureen Wiltshire puts together a parcel of food at a Food Bank depot at St. Paul's Church in Brixton on October 23, 2012 in London, England. The need for food banks has increased with around three depots openi
LONDON Volunteer Maureen Wiltshire puts together a parcel of food at a Food Bank 

FURTHER grim news from the frontline of the UK Government’s war on benefit claimants emerges this week with the revelation that one in 15 of those on Universal Credit (UC) has had up to 40 per cent deducted from their payments to cover debts.

If that sounds unreasonable it is. Not just because the most likely cause of an overpayment is an error by someone at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Given the shambolic introduction of the benefit it is little surprise mistakes have been made.

And not just because 40 per cent is a huge amount of anyone’s income to have to allocate to paying off debts. But mainly because it is obvious the amount most households receive under UC is already insufficient for a tolerable standard of life.

The standard personal allowance for a single adult over the age of 25 is £317.82 per calendar month. After a 40% deduction of £127.13 this leaves a payment £190.69 to live on for the month. Housing costs are additional, but everything else has to come out of £44 a week.

There are always those – usually comfortably off themselves – who say they could readily do it. But could you? Food, fuel, transport?

You could do without a car, but will need cash for public transport – particularly to benefit interviews and job seeking appointments. You may get council tax benefits but still need to pay water charges. Is the phone an essential? Is the internet? Do you have childcare costs? You could shop only at budget supermarkets. Do you want a television? You won’t be able to afford cable, or Netflix. Can you afford a license anyway? £12.50 a month.

Let’s hope the washing machine doesn’t break, or the bed, or that you need new shoes. I saw a professor once suggest that it was possibly for a single person to eat nutritiously on £12 a week – but that was five years ago and I didn’t believe it then. But maybe you’ll qualify for the food bank.

The truth is benefit rates even if paid in full leave claimants below the poverty line. They are not sufficient for what most of us would deem a reasonable quality of life. A TV is arguably a luxury – but without it you are cut off from a sizeable chunk of our common culture. You’re not going to be affording many cinema or theatre tickets. A mobile phone is more or less essential, particularly if you are supposed to be finding work. A pet? Hard to justify. But it is miserable to be denied every pleasure that everyone around you takes for granted.

According to the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, the figures suggest deductions are considerably higher under UC than they were under previous systems, causing many Scots financial hardship. Such cuts to benefits are having a significant impact on Scottish families on low incomes according to Citizen’s Advice Scotland.

The DWP says less than one in 200 claims has total deductions of more than 40%. It also says rent or fuel costs are allowed for, in order to “protect claimant welfare”. That’s simply disingenuous. as benefits rates already undermine that welfare, attempting to starve people into work with sanctions and cuts.

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The DWP is about to get a bit of a shock over Universal Credit

dwplogo1

The Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) Universal Credit welfare reform has been controversial. And now a group of disabled people is taking the fight against it right to the heart of parliament.

“Grave” and “systematic” human rights violations

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) is at the forefront of the disability rights movement in the UK. As well as high-profile protests, legal actions, and campaigns, the group was also instrumental in securing a report from the UN. The report accused successive Conservative-led governments of “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights, creating a “human catastrophe”.

But now, the group has turned its attention to Universal Credit, the new welfare payment from the DWP.

It had previously organised a national day of action on Thursday 1 March against the reform, but due to the severe weather in the UK, the planned protest at parliament was cancelled. It’s now happening on Wednesday 18 April, right in the middle of prime minister’s questions (PMQs).

Universal credit: extensive concerns

DPAC has extensively detailed its concerns over Universal Credit. These include:

  • Up to one million low paid workers being subject to the same welfare and sanctions regime that disabled people have been living with.
  • Universal Credit being administered wholly online, when around 2.9 million disabled people (22%) have never used the internet.
  • The DWP will ignore GPs’ sick notes under Universal Credit. Instead, all sick and disabled claimants will have Health and Work Conversations with the DWP. These are mandatory work-focused interviews to assess “what they [claimants] can do rather than what they cannot”.
  • An increase in the sanctions regime, linked to the Health and Work Conversations.
  • Some disabled people and couples losing up to £5,195 a year due to changes to entitlements.
  • The effect of the benefit on people living with mental health issues – specifically possible forced therapy.

Just this week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) also found that around 160,000 children who would have got free school meals under the old system will lose out with Universal Credit. Meanwhile, the Trussell Trust found that “foodbanks in areas of full [Universal Credit] roll out for six months or more have seen a 30% average increase six months after rollout compared to a year before”. Its analysis also showed that Universal Credit accounted for:

  • 45% of referrals made, because of a wait for a first payment.
  • 36% of referrals made, because the DWP had not yet awarded someone a new claim.
  • 38% of referrals made, due to a change to a different benefit.

The DWP previously told The Canary:

We are committed to supporting people into work while making sure the right care is in place for those that can’t.

The government’s and the DWP’s wilful ignorance

But Ellen Clifford from DPAC is concerned. She told The Canary:

To date at least £15.8bn has been wasted on its implementation with repeated delays and a continued failure to present any evidence of a business case to justify either the cost to the taxpayer or the distress and hardship it is already causing to claimants… Pilot areas have reported serious hardship with visits to food banks soaring along with rates of people sanctioned and left without any income for 3 months or more.

Universal Credit is a disastrous policy that represents a crime against claimants and must be stopped before it pushes more people into poverty and destitution.

DPAC will be gathering at 11am on 18 April outside the visitors’ entrance to parliament. Local actions will also be happening up and down the country; details are here. Despite the group’s and other’s concerns though, the government has barely made any concessions on Universal Credit. So it’s once again down to disabled people to hold this government to account.

If you’re free on 18 April, you might like to join DPAC at parliament. Because it may not be too long before the DWP hits you with Universal Credit, too.

Get Involved!

– Support DPAC and Black Triangle, campaigning for disabled people’s rights.

– Find out more about DPAC’s 18 April day of action.

Frank Field tells MPs of Birkenhead constituent forced to live ‘off 7p a day’

Birkenhead MP Frank Field.
Birkenhead MP Frank Field

Ministers have been warned that Universal Credit still has “real problems” as Labour MP Frank Field revealed how one constituent had been forced to live on 7p a day.

Mr Field, who chairs the work and pensions select committee, urged the Government to rethink axing administrative staff as the benefit was rolled out.

The Birkenhead MP, speaking during work and pensions questions in the Commons, said: “There are 98 members on temporary contracts in Birkenhead going to be laid off because its the end of their contract period.

“We’re likely to still be having real problems with the roll out of universal credit, I had five cases last week – one with a woman reduced to living off 7p.

“Might some of those staff, if not all of them, be redeployed to make sure there is the smooth transition from traditional benefits to the new one.”

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey said she was happy to talk to Mr Field about his concerns.

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DWP accused of ‘clumsy’ attempt to defend Universal Credit using IFS research

MPs criticise “airy and irrelevant” responses from the department after committee raises questions over the projected employment boost from benefit reform​
Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)

The Department for Work and Pensions has been accused of inaccurately using research from the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies to justify the projected employment boost from the flagship Universal Credit benefit reform.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee today released emails from IFS director Paul Johnson stating that the think-tank could not support the DWP’s assessment that Universal Credit, which will merge six benefit payments into one, would result in 250,000 more people in employment

However, the DWP said the committee’s statements were misleading and  that the committee had not taken up an offer to receive a list of published academic literature which supports the department’s estimates.

According to evidence given to the committee by employment minister Alok Sharma, this figure is based on three constituent parts – 150,000 more due to increased financial incentives to work, 50,000 more due to increased conditionality on benefits payments and 60,000 due to “simplification” of the benefit system.

DWP Lies about Universal Credit (Part 591) : Official

After the committee sought further details on these figures, Sharma stated “the approach to our analysis underpinning these estimates was reviewed by the Institute for Fiscal Studies”.

However, IFS chief Johnson told the committee that “at no stage did we review their approach to estimating the impact of increased conditionality or simplification, to which they attribute 50,000 and 60,000 respectively of the overall 250,000 forecast effect on employment””

In a letter to committee chair Frank Field, he said that the IFS reviewed part of the DWP methodology used to calculate this figure in 2012, but this only covered the element related to the changes to financial incentives. He was also unable to assess whether the improvements recommended at the time were implemented.

“The employment impact of UC is highly uncertain. The move to UC involves a number of changes for which it is hard to find comparable precedents (especially UK precedents),” Johnson’s letter stated.

“Sadly, it will be difficult even after the event to produce convincing estimates of the overall employment impact of UC. The early impact estimates that DWP have published – cited in the minister’s letter of 12 March – apply only to a small group of claimants who are not affected by UC in the same way as most other claimants.”

Publishing the correspondence, Field said the “ongoing lack of evidence to back up the much-vaunted employment impact of Universal Credit” was disappointing, and he describes the department’s response to the committee’s queries as “airy, irrelevant and, it appears, plainly inaccurate”.

He added: “This clumsy and ill-judged attempt to piggyback on one of the most trusted, unimpugnable authorities on public policy and finance would be farcical if it was not so deeply worrying.”

However, a DWP spokeswoman told Civil Service World the committee’s claims were “false and misleading”, and highlighted that the IFS review of the 150,000 estimate for the number of people that would move into work found it to be reasonable, adding that the IFS had not questioned the DWP’s claim that simplifying the system and bringing more people into conditionality would have an even greater impact, which the department said represented “mainstream labour market theory”.

She added: “Research already shows that through Universal Credit people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the old system. And we have said we can supply further information that supports our estimate that 250,000 more people will be in employment once UC is fully rolled out.”

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MP Ben Bradley causing rows again!

MP Ben Bradley at centre of row over universal credit at council meeting

Image result for MP Ben Bradley

There were heated exchanges of views over the introduction of universal credit in Nottinghamshire at a meeting at County Hall today ( 22 March ). The controversial benefit will affect anyone who currently claims one of six benefits, including Jobseeker’s Allowance, Child Tax Credits and Housing Benefit.

At a meeting today, the Conservative Mansfield MP and Hucknall councillor Ben Bradley said Labour were “weaponising poor people” and “scaremongering rubbish”. He was then told by several Labour councillors he should be “ashamed of himself”, and that his “reputation was in tatters”. The leader of the council, Kay Cutts, several times asked for proceedings to be halted, and the chairman said there should be less “offensive” language.
Labour councillor Michael Payne, who represents Arnold North, quoted parts of a blog written by Mr Bradley’s, in which he said people on benefits should have vasectomies.

Mr Bradley replied by saying several Labour MPs supported universal credit.

Councillors at Nottinghamshire County Council were engaged in a row at a meeting of the full council today after the Ashfield Independents put forward a motion calling on the council to formally condemn the new benefit. The motion was eventually rejected after the Conservative councillors, who make up the largest group, voted against it.

The benefit, which has been beset by teething problems, will be rolled out at Newark in May, Mansfield in September, Nottingham in October, and Ashfield, Beeston and Arnold in November. It has already been introduced in other parts of the country.

Ashfield Independent councillor Jason Zadrozny, who brought the motion, said where it had been brought in, universal credit had caused “misery for some of the poorest residents and families”.

He said: “It has led to evictions, excessive debt, increased use for food bank and destitution. The implementation of universal credit has been a disaster and it is unacceptable to roll this out in our county until problems that the DWP admit are sorted out.

A group of Conservative politicians just told poor people it’s their fault they’re dying young

“Almost half of all council tenants across the 105 local authorities who currently receive the housing element of universal credit – which replaces housing benefit – are at least a month behind on their rent, with 30 percent two months behind.”

Mr Bradley said: “It’s a good idea and it’s the right thing to do. There are many cases where it has not worked as it was supposed to, and that’s why we have rolled it out so slowly. “Rolling anything out on this scale is challenging, it’s a massive thing to change.

“Staff at job centres tell me the biggest challenge is not universal credit, it’s the fear of universal credit stirred up by the Labour Party. WHAT BULLSHITE! He wants to be careful he isn’t sued again!

“Staff at job centres tell me they are excited about the rollout of universal credit because it will make people’s lives simpler. History will show this is a sensible proposal.” UTTER BS

Councillor Payne said: “Your reputation lies in tatters, we’ll take no lectures from you on this matter. “We made a list of demands of things they could change, all of which you should know would make a difference, but your party in a dogmatic fashion chose to ignore them.

“You are the MP who tweeted out that you were looking forward to the rollout. Before you come to this chamber you should check your own morals.”

Stuart Wallace, who is the Conservative councillor for Newark East, added: “This motion is about universal credit policy, which while it’s relevant to people in the county, it is not within our control. It has been subject to lengthy debate in parliament.

“All residents have access to their MPs and the future of this policy will be decided in Westminster and not in this county.” Councillor Kate Foale represents Labour, and is the spokeswoman on the issue, as well as being the councillor for the Beeston Central and Ryland ward.

She said: “Sadly, this most-recent introduction to the universal credit roll out demonstrates very clearly how this Conservative government regards families who are on the breadline and are working hard to try and make ends meet.

“Universal credit has been, and continues to be introduced without the local resources needed to support families and individuals to make sure they can access it, and without any regard, or care, for how it will affect people who are working hard but are either unable to work, or earn low wages.”

Councillor Alan Rhodes, who is the leader of the Labour group, and a councillor for Worksop North, said: “I think the introduction of universal credit is only going to make people’s lives harder.

“It’s cruel, it’s callous, and it’s unnecessary.”

The motion, which called on the council to write to the Government objecting to the Universal Credit plans, was rejected by 32 to 28.

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