Introduced by the government as part of the first wave of austerity measures, Universal Credit is set to be the single largest form of benefit payment in the UK once it is fully implemented.
Universal Credit will largely be administered through claimants self-serving through the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) website, which has been the main source of concern for many over the changes.
Initially trialled from October 2013, the plan is for Universal Credit to replace existing Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), Income Support and Housing Benefit payments, as well as Working and Child Tax Credit. The final stages of this transition are expected to be completed by 2016, with all previous welfare payments due to be stopped by 2017.
Such sweeping changes are becoming commonplace in British politics – following the global financial crisis of 2009, the government identified reduction of the amount spent on the welfare system as one of the main methods through which they could reduce the national debt. Universal Credit is one of the core tenets of this strategy, as it the government expects to the system to allow the DWP to more accurately monitor benefits fraud – as well as lowering expenditure on administration staff for each individual benefit.
Critics of the move have suggested that Universal Credit will have a negative effect on the UK’s welfare system. The most common argument against the moves is that the unsophisticated infrastructure being used by DWP will actually drive costs up, with current claimants becoming dependant on local government and council hand-outs rather than Universal Credit.