Think tank report claims better use of information could help direct resources
The Department for Work and Pensions has been urged to take a data-focused approach to Universal Credit, including weekly real-time information on the number of claims, details on processing times and the promptness of first payments.
A report from the Resolution Foundation – a think tank which focuses on improving the lives of people on low to middle incomes – said that such information would show where resources were needed if the system was not coping, or provide reassurance to the public if it was.
Report authors Mike Brewer and Karl Handscomb said the fact that Universal Credit had not broken down in the face of such unprecedented demand showed the move to a digital-first system had made it more resilient than many people thought while extra resources were making a positive difference.
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However, they said that with many more claims likely in the coming weeks and months, even if the current surge rates slowed, there was more that the government could do to ensure millions of people got the prompt income support they would need to get through the crisis.
“Many people who lose their jobs will not be covered by the government’s wage subsidy schemes and UC will therefore be their only source of income support,” they said. “But they may be put off by misleading headlines about it taking five weeks to receive support. The government should therefore advertise UC as the first line of income support, and target higher take-up among entitled groups.”
Responding to the Resolution Foundation’s call, a DWP spokesperson said the department was moving 10,000 staff to help on the Universal Credit frontline and that it was expecting to recruit a further 1,500 people to aid the effort.
“The prime minister and chancellor have repeatedly encouraged people to claim Universal Credit if their income has been affected, and we keep our website up to date with specific coronavirus information to help people,” they said.
This week, work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey paid tribute to DWP staff for their efforts in processing the huge numbers of new Universal Credit claims since the middle of March.
“Universal Credit is standing up to the challenge as nearly a million people have made a claim in the last fortnight and our tremendous DWP civil servants are working flat out to process them,” she wrote on Twitter.
“We know our phonelines and IT systems are busy, but rest assured that we are all on it.”