New findings on Universal Credit

Posted 16 May 2018

Gingerbread has been working with single parent families to understand the experience and reality of Universal Credit (UC) as it continues to be rolled out.

We outline progress against the Government’s objectives to:

  • make work pay
  • personalise support
  • simplify the system.

Unsurprisingly, we find that UC is failing to meet these objectives. After the initial – financial and emotional – shocks of moving onto UC, there is limited stability for some single parent families. For most debt, housing insecurity and job uncertainty is the norm.

Parents told us that they were “too scared to take the risk of moving into work” with risks of entering insecure and low paid work often too high and gains to low; as well as work coaches unable to provide accurate and timely ‘back to work’ calculations.

Parents also described a childcare system that places additional burdens on parents from needing to submit receipts in person to having to find the upfront costs that childcare providers require.

And we heard of an unpredictable system where “it’s up to you to work it all out” leading to confusion and errors.

Despite some nuggets of stability, where a supportive work coach drew on existing flexibilities or a housing association worked with parents to help manage their debt, the experience of UC remains bleak and chaotic for many single parent families.

This is not inevitable – policymakers can make choices to better support those on UC.

 “Universal Credit rules should be made more reasonable for single parents, they are too hard on single parents who need to be there for their children.” Sally, single parent on UC

Gingerbread recommends a range of practical recommendations to help the Government achieve its objectives that include.

Making work pay

  • Jobcentres to support parents with the upfront costs of childcare through an Upfront guarantee paid directly to the provider by using the Flexible Support Fund
  • Allowing single parents who would need to move onto UC as a result of entering temporary work to remain on legacy benefits when a transfer would leave them worse off
  • Reverse cuts to the work allowances under UC – without this, working single parents lose £800 on average and some over £2,000 a year

Personalised support

  • Suspend new job-seeking requirements for parents of three and four year olds, until affordable and good quality childcare and flexible work is available locally
  • Ensure entitlements are clear and single parents’ needs are recognised in claimant commitments, for example that single parents can access training for up to a year

A simplified system:

  • Supporting families to manage financially through further improving advance payments; better access to fortnightly payments and direct payments to landlords
  • Provide mechanism to pay registered childcare providers directly (similar to tax-free childcare) reducing administrative burden
Read the full research report