Yesterday, Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey MP announced that her department will enter into a partnership worth £39 million with Citizens Advice, to deliver the Universal Support service.
Universal Support is a scheme to help people make initial claims for Universal Credit, which involves helping them with digital skills, as claiming is online, and with personal budgeting, in order to manage the transition into a different payment regime.
Nimrod Ben-Cnaan, head of policy and profile at Law Centres Network, commented:
We welcome this help for people to claim Universal Credit. However, it does nothing to address the systemic problems with Universal Credit that the government continues to play down, deny or try to discredit as ‘fake news’.
Sadly, difficulties claiming the full amount you are entitled to don't end with making the initial claim. Law Centres see every day how the systemic flaws of Universal Credit push people to the brink of home loss and destitution.
Last year, there were so many wrong initial Universal Credit decisions that nearly half of appeals against them (49%) were successful. However, government helped none of these claimants to appeal, as legal aid for this work was cut over five years ago.
People's welfare rights are meaningless unless they can access remedies if those rights are breached. Government's commitment of £39 million for Universal Support needs to be matched with funding for helping claimants to challenge wrongful sanctions and bad benefits decisions through legal aid.
Compared with £1.9 billion already spent on implementing Universal Credit, such a sum would be negligible. As long as the system itself is not improved, this assistance is vital - to people’s livelihoods as to justice.