Now that we’re through the winter election, we look at what that could mean for benefit claimants.
In the immortal words of Brenda from Bristol: ‘You’re joking – not another one?!’. Yes, that’s right – it’s another General Election.
With any election, one of the key debates is how each party will deliver welfare and benefits. During the recent leadership election, most of the candidates for the Conservatives also said they planned to reform Universal Credit.
One thing that we can be pretty sure of – whatever happens, some things will stay the same. One of the big ideas behind Universal Credit was getting everyone online and using a bank account. This has caused big problems during the rollout of Universal Credit. As our own readers survey showed – 11% of Quids in! readers had no internet access, with 39% having no bank account.
The future is online
It’s hard to believe that, if Labour win an election or even if the Conservatives abandon Universal Credit – whatever replaces it will not demand the same. Claimants will almost certainly have to be online and have a bank account, no matter what. And this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Any benefits in place system should be in sync with the modern world. As more services go online, like banking and paying bills etc., it makes sense that benefit systems function online, too. The days of the giro paid as cash in an envelope are over.
Reform is the key
While we’re ourselves no great fans of Universal Credit, to scrap it all and start again is not the answer. What the system needs is proper reform. Labour have made a list of 10 key changes they’d make to Universal Credit on day one of forming a government. These include scrapping some of the most controversial issues, like the 5 week wait for first payment and the ‘two child limit’. The Conservatives have also announced they’ll lift the benefit freeze in 2020, giving campaigners hope that the government is at last listening to concerns.
As Helen Barnard of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said earlier this year when responding to Labour plans to scrap Universal Credit: ‘We should respect the voices bravely speaking up about their experience of problems with UC; but we must also listen to the quieter voices of those who have benefited from aspects of UC and dread yet more upheaval and structural change.’
Ultimately, whoever is in power we need to prepare for a benefits system that is accessed online and which requires a bank account. To help with this we have an info page on basic bank accounts, and a page on getting the best broadband deals.