Why our new policy on extending the £20 Universal Credit to the legacy benefits is important

On Sunday morning Conference agreed to not only make the £20 a week Universal Credit uplift permanent but to also extend it to the legacy benefits, such as Employment and Support Allowance and Jobseekers Allowance.

When the £20 uplift for Universal Credit was introduced it was stated that about half of claimants were on Universal Credit and half still on the legacy benefits. It will cost about the same to extend this uplift to those on the legacy benefits as it did to implement for those on Universal Credit. Most of these people on legacy benefits then are still on them now. There are many good reasons for people to wish to stay on them rather than transferring to Universal Credit.

I expect most people on the legacy benefits would like to remain on them because of the well-known issues there are with Universal Credit. For example the more than five-week waiting time before the benefit arrives and that all communication about should be carried out on the internet. Lots of people have to an advance before their first Universal Credit payment arrives and they will therefore owe money to the government which has to be paid back. This means that they then receive a reduced amount of Universal Credit because of having to pay back the advance. It is difficult to live on the full amount of Universal Credit but it is impossible to live on, once it has been reduced by the amount that the DWP demand has to be paid back. If they are one of the 1.5 million households with no internet connection and they moved to Universal Credit they may also have great difficulty in communicating with the Work and Pensions Department because all communication about this benefit should be done online.

Our policy on this is more radical than the Labour Party and it is now fair because we will treat those receiving the legacy benefits in the same way as those on Universal Credit.

* Michael Berwick-Gooding is a Liberal Democrat member in Basingstoke and has held various party positions at local, regional and English Party level. He posts comments as Michael BG.

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  • Peter Davies 24th Sep '21 - 7:19pm

    Though slightly more radical would be to get rid of the deficiencies in UC that makes people stay on old benefits.

  • Katharine Pindar 24th Sep '21 - 10:14pm

    It’s absolutely right to focus on the iniquities of Universal Credit, it seems to me, because even if the £20 a week extra is grudgingly retained in the end, the acceptance of an advance is a trap that can easily lead people into debt, as their payments are reduced to repay the government loan.

  • Peter Davies,

    Treating people on Universal Credit and the legacy benefits equally by them all receiving the same amount is fair. It is the place to start. We also have policies to make Universal Credit better by:

    Reducing the wait for the first payment from five weeks to five days.
    Making work pay by increasing work allowances and introducing a second earner work allowance.
    Scrapping the sanctions system.

    We could have more, such as:
    Making advances only repayable when the claimant is in work, earns above average earnings and no longer receives any benefits.
    Scrapping the requirement to apply online and for all communication to be online.

  • Peter Martin 25th Sep '21 - 5:37am

    I was reading recently about a nursing shortage in the USA during WW2. There shouldn’t have been any problem at all but black volunteers were often being rejected as unsuitable for spurious reasons while there weren’t enough white volunteers. So one proposal was to extend the draft to nursing which naturally caused some resentment in the white female population. I don’t need to explain how stupid it was all round to not make full use of the resources that were available, and the additional social problems that were created by this type of discrimination.

    We don’t have quite the same problem now, but nevertheless many workers are excluded from consideration from employment because many employers have become used to being able to become too ‘picky’. Many workers don’t get a look in simply because their jobs record has been poor.

    So by all means do what you can to patch up a failing system by keeping the extra £20 going for some time yet, but at the same time it would be useful to have something to say about giving workers another chance to get back into the jobs market and to break the cycle of long term unemployment leading to unemployability. It doesn’t make any sense to have 1.5 million workers unemployed and the same number again underemployed when there is an actual and obvious shortage of workers.

  • Peter Martin,

    On Sunday Katharine Pindar and I had the opportunity do something about having policies to help the unemployed. The policy paper ‘A Fairer, Greener and More Caring Society’ included that we would, ‘Introduce a green jobs guarantee, offering a well-paying green job to anyone who wants one’. After I successfully appealed against the decision not to debate this sentence, Conference agreed for it to be added to the policy motion. Conference agreed to all three parts of our amendment. It is now our policy to provide training courses free to those not in work via a training guarantee scheme. The Liberal Democrat policy on job guarantees goes further than the Labour Party’s policy, which I think only applies to those under 24.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 25th Sep '21 - 1:31pm

    Very constructive Michael. Good work on an essential issue.

  • Peter Martin 25th Sep '21 - 4:05pm

    @ Michael BG

    Good one!😊

  • Thank you Lorenzo Cherin and Peter Martin for your positive comments.

    According to the Daily Record (https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/lifestyle/money/dwp-legal-case-over-20-25042566) the decision of the High Court to rule on whether the Universal Credit uplift should apply to those on legacy benefits has been put back from this week. If successful those on a legacy benefit would receive just over £1500 if they have received the legacy benefit for the whole last 18 months.

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