Report of the Strategic Director, Corporate Resources
The Committee received a report and presentation with regards to the implementation of Universal Credit in Gateshead.
The Committee were advised that Universal Credit has been implemented in 2 phases in Gateshead. In 2015 the “Live” service was introduced for single, non-householder, no children, new job seeker allowance claimants. The rollout of “Full” service in October 2017 was for new claims and change of circumstances. All Universal Credit claims are made via an online application resulting in a single household payment paid monthly in arrears.
The support the implementation of Universal Credit, the Council agreed a Delivery Partnership Agreement with DWP up to 31 March 2019 to provide Universal Support, which mainly included assisted digital support and personal budgeting support. With effect from 1 April 2019, Citizens Advice has become responsible and is funded by DWP for “Help to Claim” support. This is only to assist claimants with their on line claim to the first payment stage. Citizens Advice has not been funded for Personal budgeting support.
The Committee heard from Dr Mandy Cheetham with regards to the research she had undertaken in partnership with Newcastle University. The research used qualitative methods and the team undertook interviews with Universal Credit claimants living in Gateshead (22), Newcastle (10) and South Tyneside (1). Interviews also took place with staff working in Gateshead in Housing (4), the Local Authority (11) and VCS Orgs (22).
The Aims of Universal Credit were to simplify the benefits system, make work pay, reduce fraud and error and encourage people into work.
Some of the issues identified by claimants are as follows:
· Online claims process
· 5 week assessment period difficult to manage/delays
· Advance payments
· Incorrect awards
· Monthly payments
· Deductions (leaving people in hardship and destitution)
· Resolving issues difficult (passing people from pillar to post)
· Appeals process overlong
· Increased debt / borrowing (reliance on friends and family)
· Impact on claimant’s physical / mental / social / financial health / housing security / employment prospects
Some of the comments from staff include:
· If you wanted to devise a system that discriminated against people with learning disabilities, this would be it … it absolutely particularly discriminates against people with mental health problems and people with learning disabilities
· If you’re not au fait with a computer, it can be really a bit daunting
· The impact has been horrendous
Its hitting people that can least afford it the hardest with an increased risk of rent arrears, risk of eviction, effects of sanctions, increased hardship / debt/fuel and food insecurity, embarrassment and shame, cumulative impact of welfare reform, deteriorating mental and physical health, anxiety, stress and stigma, relationships with family and friends, social isolation, increased demands on wider LA/VCS services, staff burnout.
A comment which came through the research with regards to the pressure on the NHS, for example a sanction saves DWP £1000, is there potential to cost the NHS £10,000 as the sanction leads to a hospital admission.
Staff feel like there is no compassion, no mercy, nothing, staff also feel like they are punishing people and it is as if you are benefits you don’t deserve a quality of life. It also seems that people telling staff that they want to kill themselves will have an impact on the staff’s mental health and wellbeing.
Recommendations within the report were highlighted as follows:
· Halt Universal Credit roll out
· Monitor and review effects before managed migration
· Update equality impact assessment
· Implement recommendations from VCS/UN
· Monitor wider costs / impact on public spending
· Develop and integrated poverty reduction strategy
· Challenge stigma and discrimination
· Build local partnerships
· Support the VCS
· Lobby for change / adequate resources
· Use learning
It was queried if the research show that where Universal Credit has been rolled out that there is an increase in the use of foodbanks. It was noted that there has been an increase in the use of foodbanks in Gateshead.
It was noted that it had been calculated that a person applying for Universal Credit would need £1000 in savings to get through the minimum of 5 weeks it takes to have their application considered, it was noted that most people would not have £1000 of savings.
It was queried about how open staff were when it came to talking about the impract on their own mental health and whether we are seeing staff suffering. It was noted that staff did talk about how difficult it was for them seeing the suffering Universal Credit was causing is emotional. It was also noted that staff working part time with young children may also be impacted upon.
RESOLVED – That the information contained within the report and presentation be noted.