By Chaminda Jayanetti
Universal Credit has become the policy by which the government will justify all others, the revolution that will make all the pain inflicted by benefit cuts somehow worthwhile. It has been sold for years as the great reform just around the corner that will leave you better off.
No other single policy has so much government credibility staked on it as the successful expansion of Universal Credit. Without it, all that remains of the government’s welfare agenda is a kind of moralising sadism, like Mary Whitehouse channelling the Marquis de Sade.
But what state is it in?
Universal Credit is designed to replace six different benefits:
- Working Tax Credit
- Child Tax Credit
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- Income-based Jobseekers Allowance
- Income Support
- Housing Benefit
Some of these benefits are structured and calculated in a complex way – tax credits in particular. Others, such as Jobseekers Allowance, are much more straightforward payments to individuals. Many of them are also predominantly paid to women:
Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit:
In 2010, economist Stewart Lansley wrote that 70 percent of tax credits go to women. Current figures are hard to come by, but it’s likely that at least two-thirds of tax credits still go to women – the percentage having fallen as women have been disproportionately hit by the tax credit cuts since 2010.
Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
Of all ESA claims in Aug 2015, 47 percent went to women, and 53 percent went to men – a fairly even split. Income-related ESA is unlikely to differ heavily from these figures.
Income-based Jobseekers Allowance
For all JSA claims as of Aug 2015, 38 percent went to women, and 62 percent went to men. Eighty percent of JSA claims are income-based only.
In August 2015, fully 81 percent of claimants were female; and just 19 percent male – more than wiping out the male dominance of JSA, and with more claimants than JSA to boot.
In November 2015, two-thirds of single-person claimants were women. 78 percent of all claims are by single-person claimants; most of the rest are couples.
Childless single-person claims are evenly split between the genders – but nearly 20 times as many women as men are single-people claimants with dependent children.
In short, for most of the benefits being replaced by Universal Credit, women make up the clear majority of claimants. Only with JSA do men constitute a significant majority.
So women must make up the majority of Universal Credit claims, right?
As of February 2016, two-thirds of all Universal Credit claimants are men (see page 5 here). Especially young men – a fifth of the entire caseload is made up of men aged 20-24.
Why the disparity? Because young men are the administratively “easy” cases. They are less likely than women to have childcare responsibilities, which add complexity to tax credit claims. Their housing benefit claims are far likelier to be child-free than those of women, as we saw earlier. The only benefit where men make up the clear majority – JSA – is the simplest one. Indeed, 60 percent of current UC claimants are out of work, despite huge swathes of tax credit and housing benefit claimants having jobs.
This isn’t necessarily news. The Department for Work and Pensions has been open that its heavily delayed introduction of Universal Credit will focus initially on new claims by single, non-disabled people – again, the administratively “easy” cases. The current data merely reflects this.
But what it does mean is that having been “rolled out” for nearly three years and counting, at a cost of more than £300m in 2014/15 alone, and with a most recent estimated cost of fully £15.8bn to 2020, Universal Credit is still stuck on cases that are simplest to administer. The fraught IT systems have yet to be tested on more complex tax credit cases. The focus is still on new claims rather than moving existing claims onto the new system. The current caseload is still barely 200,000, compared to the more than 5.5 million tax credit awards in 2013/14.
It is hard to find anyone who actually believes that Universal Credit can work or will work. There’s little sign of conviction from government. It has been a matter of mirth among opposition politicians for years. DWP insiders’ despair at the scheme leaks almost casually into the press. But still the fantasy of deliverability must go on, because behind that fantasy can be justified all manner of ills being meted out to people with no money, in the apparent belief that the cure to inequality can be cribbed from the pages of Leviticus.
So, nothing to see here, folks. Everything’s going just according to plan.