Almost half the people using the Conservative Party’s flagship benefit system – universal credit – are struggling to pay bills, according to an official government survey.
More than 800,000 new claimants are already on the benefit and existing claimants will start being moved to it from 2019.
Buried in an online report
However, as reported by The Mirror, the shocking admission from a DWP survey was buried in an 82-page research report and quietly put online today while MPs are away from parliament.
The survey of 4,202 people was carried out by IFF research for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) between March and September last year.
Universal credit rolls six benefits into one monthly payment and Tory ministers have claimed that the system is more flexible and fair.
However, the survey reveals that 44% of claimants are struggling to pay their bills just three months into their universal credit claim.
Whether that’s keeping up with bills but facing a “constant struggle” or “experiencing real financial difficulties”, paying bills are a real concern for many households on the scheme.
Those eight or nine months into their claim are also experiencing similar issues, with 40% struggling to pay bills.
Another one in three claimants added that they struggled with bills “from time to time”, which means that just a quarter of those on universal credit have experienced no difficulties financially.
Claimants getting into debt
Unfortunately, this means a number of claimants are getting into debt in order to cover the costs of their bills.
A third of claimants admitted they had borrowed money from friends or family.
Another 11% had applied for a bank overdraft, while many others have been forced to turn to charities, payday loan firms and doorstep lenders.
Over a third were in arrears on housing costs, and for many this arrears only got bigger once they were eight or nine months into their claim.
This comes on the back of a recent report which found that thousands of Universal Credit claimants are losing 40% of their benefits to debt repayments.
Charities call for reform
Charities are now demanding reform after the shock survey about Universal Credit, claiming that the findings show that the scheme has been a dismal failure.
Child Poverty Action Group chief executive Alison Garnham said: “It is clear that there are still many people who months into their claim, are being left with too little to live on.
“Universal Credit once had strong poverty-reducing potential but big funding reductions have meant it is failing to achieve its original aims.
“Many of its design faults have been allowed to go uncorrected. Unless funding for Universal Credit is restored and its design re-visited, this once flagship benefit will continue to fail.”
Also today, a High Court ruled that the government is unlawfully discriminating against disabled people by taking “essential benefits” from disabled claimants in its roll-out of universal credit.
The DWP’s response
The survey also found that 43% of claimants needed help or support working out how to register their universal credit claim online.
The authors of the study admitted that more needed to be done to improve knowledge and understanding of UC but the DWP also felt there was “evidence of positive employment outcomes.”
The DWP said: “The survey shows that the vast majority of claimants are comfortable managing their money with nearly seven out of ten (67%) claimants saying they felt confident managing their Universal Credit payments.
“It was carried out between March and September 2017 and relates to a point in time prior to the changes announced at the autumn budget.
“Since then our improvements include the abolition of waiting days, making 100% advance payments available from day one, and introducing two weeks additional housing cost support for people joining Universal Credit from Housing Benefit.
“Furthermore, we are also investing up to £200m to provide budgeting advice and digital support to those who need it.”