A rethink required on Universal Credit

29th November 2018

While the focus of politicians and the media is on Brexit there is another big political decision that deserves everybody’s attention. Draft rules for the ‘managed migration’ of people who currently receive particular benefits onto Universal Credit have been published by the UK Government.  The UK Parliament is due to vote on these rules before Christmas. We’re worried that unless we can persuade Government to change these rules before the vote, people with mental health problems might see their benefits stop entirely.

So why is this important and how will it affect people with mental health problems?

Universal Credit (UC) is currently being rolled out across Scotland and the rest of the UK. UC replaces six out of work benefits including Income Related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which people can receive if they are too ill or disabled to work. Up until now, only people making new benefit claims have had to apply for Universal Credit. If the draft rules are approved by Parliament, from next year people who currently receive one of the six legacy benefits will have to make a claim for UC instead. In Scotland this will mean that the 87,424 people who receive income-related ESA due to a mental health problem; - that’s 59.6% of all income-related ESA recipients in Scotland - will have to make a claim for UC between 2019 and 2023.

Our main problem with the draft regulations is the threat that people who fail to make a claim for UC will have their existing benefits stopped – possibly losing their only financial support. The draft rules provide a minimum 3 month period for people to make a UC claim once they have been told they need to by the DWP. It is unacceptable that people with mental health problems risk destitution if they are unable to make a claim. We already know from the Governments own research that 53% of people with long term conditions needed extra support setting up their claim and 24% could not register a claim online.  The threat of a hard stop to benefit payments is an unacceptable risk and must be changed.

This isn’t just a concern for SAMH, but has also been highlighted by the Social Security Advisory Committee’s (SSAC) whose role is to scrutinise Government policy on social security. We agree with the SACC that the Government should identify circumstances where claimants should not need to make a new UC claim, but could be automatically transferred, removing the risk that their benefits are stopped. We believe the risk of moving from legacy benefits to Universal Credit should be carried by the State and not placed on the shoulders of society’s most vulnerable people.

So what have SAMH been doing to try and prevent these changes from happening?

Following the publication of the draft regulations on managed migration by the UK Government, we have written to all Scottish MPs expressing our concern. We have called on Scottish MPs to put pressure on the UK Government to withdraw the draft regulations and change them. If the Government do not withdraw the regulations we have called on MPs to vote against their approval.

We have also written directly to Amber Rudd, the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions  Amber Rudd and David Mundell, the Secretary of State for Scotland.

If these dangerous draft regulations are not withdrawn and changed then it is essential that MPs and Lords vote against them. SAMH will be doing all we can over the next few weeks to ensure that the voices of people with mental health problems are heard in this debate and that these changes do not go ahead.