Ministers are facing calls to immediately halt a plan to switch millions of people to Universal Credit, amid serious concerns it risks ‘pushing many of them into misery’.
Some of the country’s biggest charities have issued a joint call on the government to stop the migration of claimants from the old benefit system to the new system, warning that vulnerable people will be given a three-month grace period to reapply or risk losing their current benefits.
In an open letter to the secretary for work and pensions, Thérèse Coffey, seen by the Observer, charities such as Mind, The Trussell Trust, Shelter and Disability Rights UK say up to 2.6 million people could potentially be affected. This figure includes 700,000 people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and dementia. They say anyone unable to commit to the plan risks being left without any income.
The process of “directed migration” to Universal Credit is to start from Monday. It will see people give up old earnings-related benefits, jobseeker’s allowance and tax credits. While a few hundred will be moved now, everyone is expected to be moved to the new system within the next two years.
“We are … gravely concerned about the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) plans for credit-managed universal migration,” the group writes. “We believe that your approach to moving older people on older benefits to Universal Credit risks leaving many of them destitute.
“We ask that you consider the devastating consequences for someone who faces challenges to engage in the process with their only income cut off, especially during this cost of living crisis. No one undergoing managed migration should have their existing benefits cut until they have established a Universal Credit claim. Instead of setting arbitrary deadlines, the DWP must take responsibility for keeping people safe.
They are calling for “proactive support” from the government for those forced to relocate. “We urge you to refocus on supporting people by creating and communicating a clear safeguarding process,” they write. “We ask you to put your approach on hold until you have addressed these risks, and to commit to completing a thorough trial of the process and submitting the results to parliament for consideration.”
Charities are concerned about the government’s own research in 2018, which showed that of those with long-term health conditions, 24% could not register a claim online, only 57% were confident about the managing their payments and 53% said they needed more support to establish their claim. .
More than a third (38%) said they needed more ongoing support.
The DWP will initially move 500 people to Universal Credit. However, Mind warned that it was unacceptable to use band members as “guinea pigs” – and that being left without help could put their lives at risk. “DWP’s managed migration plans could leave people with mental health issues without income,” said Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind. “Those who are too ill to engage with the DWP may find themselves unable to pay their rent, buy food or pay their growing energy bills. This is completely unacceptable.
“Mind – and many other charities representing people affected by health issues and poverty – are willing and able to help shape the process of managed migration into one that is fit for purpose and does not compromise safety. hundreds of thousands of people, but as things stand, the process of managed migration is too dangerous to continue.
Sara Ogilvie, policy director of the Child Poverty Action Group, said continuing the migration process without a full trial and assessment was “deeply irresponsible”. “It should not be asking applicants – who by definition are the least able to withstand the financial pressures – to take on the risk, especially at a time when budgets are already stretched to breaking point,” she said. declared. “The department must commit to fully testing and publicly reporting on the managed migration process and it must ensure that no one loses their existing benefits until they have a new application for Universal Credit established in complete safety. security.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “More than five million people are already supported by Universal Credit. It is a dynamic system that adapts to people’s changing incomes, is generally more generous than the old benefits and simplifies our safety net for those who cannot work.
“About 1.4 million people with legacy benefits would be better off with Universal Credit, with top-up payments available to eligible applicants with lower Universal Credit entitlement.”