“It is hit and miss what you get on Universal Credit”

25 June 2018

It is hit and miss what you get on Universal Credit,” says Elaine, single mum to a seven year old, as she tries to manage her family finances. Elaine is one of a growing number of single parents calling Gingerbread’s helpline looking for advice to resolve issues related to Universal Credit (UC).

Currently, single parents make up approximately 1 in 6 of all claiming households, with 112,000 single parent families currently on UC. By the end of the roll out this will rise to over 1.5 million single parent families – most of which will actually be in employment. Working single parents on the lowest incomes are expected to lose around over an eighth  of their income as a result of the reforms, with some seeing losses of over £2,000 compared to the old benefits system. (See our summer Budget analysis here.)

We hear regularly from single parents who are worse off financially than they were under the previous benefits system, especially when they are working. Some are faced with harsher expectations or conditions when they transition onto the new benefits system, such as being required to work when their child is only three years old rather than five. And yet more are getting confusing or incorrect advice from Jobcentre Plus, making a complex system even harder to navigate. With over 90% of all single parents in the UK eligible for UC when it fully rolls out, call volumes to our helpline will keep growing rapidly if changes are not made soon. And much more importantly than our call volumes, we are concerned that more and more families with already fragile finances will be forced into debt. (More on this in our latest UC report here.)

With the transition the government aimed to make work pay, offer personalised support and simplify a complex benefits system. But UC is not only failing to meet these objectives, it’s also having a damaging effect on the single parent families that Gingerbread supports. Our research shows that after the initial financial shock– when parents face significant delays for their full payments and frustratingly slow administrative processes – then debt, unpredictable income due to frequent errors in calculation, and insecurity with housing and work remain the norm. Parents we speak to are struggling to put food on the table for their kids or keep up with rent payments. And the knock on impact goes beyond finances – we’ve seen UC increase parents’ stress, anxiety and depression.

As new evidence emerges from the NAO that UC is not going to deliver the increased number of people into work or deliver the savings that the government promised, we call on government to urgently listen to and act on the experiences of people already claimingit.. With rollout now delayed there is time for government to get make things right. We urge the Government to ensure that:

  • Cuts to the work allowances are reversed so that working single parents are not worse off;
  • The promised personalised support is made a reality – by ensuring transparent and appropriate claimant commitments and job-seeking conditions;
  • Families are supported to manage financially through better access to support like fortnightly payments;
  • And the administrative burden is reduced to make childcare support easier to access.

This supports recommendations made by Tony Wilson of the Learning and Work Institute in his recent blog.

Our mission is to champion and enable single parents and their children to live secure, happy and fulfilling lives and not be set back by their family structure. Currently this is being made almost impossible for many families, by a policy that hits single parents particularly hard. This can and must be changed.

Rosie Ferguson

Chief Executive, Gingerbread