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Universal Credit rules not ‘fit for real life’

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Written by: Emma Lunn
10/06/2021
Urgent changes to Universal Credit are needed to stop those people most impacted by the pandemic being left behind as the economy recovers.

Citizens Advice has warned that ‘inappropriate’ or ‘stressful’ job-seeking requirements, a lack of support with upfront childcare costs and rigid benefit rules for disabled people are all barriers that can prevent people entering the labour market.

About 360,000 people who lost their jobs in March or April 2020 are still unemployed a year on. A further 2.4 million people on Universal Credit are still looking for work, with four job-seeking claimants for every vacancy.

Citizens Advice warns groups already at a disadvantage when job-hunting have been hardest hit in the pandemic, risking an unequal recovery and long-term economic scarring. It found that under 25s were five times more likely to lose their job in the first lockdown than the rest of the working population.

A report by the charity found that more than one in three unemployed disabled people have now been looking for a job for more than a year, compared to one in seven non-disabled people. One in three unemployed single parents have been looking for work for more than a year, compared to one in five working age adults.

The charity’s frontline advisers have seen hundreds of cases where the rules in Universal Credit are making it harder for people to find work. These include a parent considering an expensive loan to meet the upfront costs of a nursery place so they can work because Universal Credit will only reimburse the fees retrospectively.

Another staff member supported a domestic abuse survivor who spent up to 40 hours-a-week job hunting after pressure from their work coach, despite suffering acute distress and anxiety.

While vacancies are picking up in some sectors, the charity’s research found about two in three (62%) unemployed people on Universal Credit say they were not confident of finding work in the next six months. Nearly nine in 10 (88%) Universal Credit claimants said their financial situation is having a negative impact on their mental health.

Rules fit for real life

Citizens Advice has supported more than 450,000 people with one-to-one advice on Universal Credit since March last year. With the highest-ever number of people on Universal Credit looking for work, the charity is calling for changes to ensure the rules set out by DWP are fit for real life.

This includes greater flexibility from DWP work coaches to ensure that people aren’t given unsuitable job-seeking requirements that could result in them cycling in and out of insecure work or being sanctioned.

The charity is also calling for the government to remove barriers faced by disabled people and parents by providing childcare costs upfront and reviewing eligibility rules for disability work allowances.

Dame Clare Moriarty, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “This has been an unequal crisis and we now face an unequal recovery, with those hardest hit by the pandemic facing an uphill struggle to find work.

“As the economy reopens, the government has a crucial opportunity to prevent irreparable scarring from this crisis. Key to this will be making sure the rules in Universal Credit are fit for real life. That means supporting people into work, not pushing them into unsuitable jobs or adding to their stress and worry with the threat of sanctions.”

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