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Universal Credit will ‘steamroll vulnerable people into poverty’

New research by The Salvation Army has found that millions of people risk being unable to access their benefits due to faults in the Universal Credit system.

Researchers interviewed Salvation Army service users and found 85% struggled to complete their claim.

A spokesman for the charity said that, of these, nearly two thirds (60%) cited not being able to use a computer or not understanding the complicated system as the main reasons they struggled to complete the process. While the government’s own research shows that 20% of Universal Credit claims are dropped before they are completed.

The Salvation Army is warning that unless the government provide more support for people to apply, vulnerable people will struggle to access their benefits, meaning millions could be left unable to buy food, pay their rent, and take care of their children.

Rebecca Keating, director of employment services at The Salvation Army said: ‘Rolling out Universal Credit in its current form will steamroll vulnerable people into poverty but the Government has time to turn this around by accepting our recommendations and making it easier to apply.

‘Millions of people need extra support accessing a computer or understanding how to fill in complicated online forms. It is these vulnerable people who also claim Employment Support Allowance (ESA), a benefit for those who need extra help to get back into work.

‘Over two million people are currently claiming ESA and are due to be moved onto Universal Credit. Our research shows that many of them are going to struggle to access a system that is complicated, bureaucratic and digital by default.

‘Universal Credit is already the main reason people are coming to our foodbanks. They come to us for help at the point when they have given up and got themselves into debt trying to manage without the money for rent and food.

‘We are helping those we can but the system is complicated even for those who are not classed as vulnerable and are applying for the standard Job Seekers Allowance who may also struggle.

‘Half of people we surveyed said that mental ill health meant they struggled to move on to Universal Credit. The Government needs to seriously rethink the implications of what that means for moving more people onto the benefit.’

The Salvation Army is calling for better identification of vulnerable people and those with mental health issues so they have tailored support to move onto Universal Credit.

Along with investment to ensure smaller caseloads for Jobcentre work coaches so they have more time to properly identify and support clients who need extra help.

And more partnership working between Jobcentres and organisations like The Salvation Army, which has expertise in helping vulnerable people into work, including digital and budgeting support.

The charity is also calling for claimant commitments to be personalised so that specific needs around issues like homelessness and domestic abuse are taken into account and people get the right support to help them find a job and stay in it.

A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions said Jobcentres across the UK will receive funding of up to £3m to support homeless people.

The funding will also be used to bolster projects jobcentres are already working on with various organisations, such as the Salvation Army.

Minister for welfare delivery, Will Quince said: ‘We are determined to help anyone experiencing homelessness, and if this means getting staff out of the jobcentre to speak to people on the street directly then we will do that.

‘There’s a huge amount of support available to help people who are homeless, but they often don’t know about the support they can access. So we’re going out and taking the help to them, through outreach programmes and closer working with homelessness charities.’

Photo Credit -Salvation Army

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