The Salvation Army has warned that millions of people are at risk of being denied access to benefits when the Universal Credit system is fully implemented.
Questioning Salvation Army service users who were among the first wave of University Credit claimants, the charity found that a staggering 85 per cent of those surveyed struggled to complete their claim. In addition, some two thirds (60 per cent) of those surveyed cited not being able to use a computer or not understanding the complexities of the digital system.
A clear indication that Universal Credit must be developed to a higher standard, the government's own research concluded that 20 per cent of claims are dropped before they are completed, likely because the system is so complicated to use.
In light of these usability issues, The Salvation Army has warned that many of the UK's most vulnerable people could find themselves unable to afford basic necessities like food, rent and childcare.
Rebecca Keating, Director of Employment Services at The Salvation Army said: "Rolling out Universal Credit in its current form will steamroll vulnerable people into poverty but the Government has time to turn this around by accepting our recommendations and making it easier to apply.
"Millions of people need extra support accessing a computer or understanding how to fill in complicated online forms. It is these vulnerable people who also claim Employment Support Allowance (ESA), a benefit for those who need extra help to get back into work. Over two million people are currently claiming ESA and are due to be moved onto Universal Credit. Our research shows that many of them are going to struggle to access a system that is complicated, bureaucratic and digital by default."
In response to the survey, which involved 160 people across England and Wales who were currently out of work and looking for employment, The Salvation Army suggested a number of ways in which the system could be improved:
- Better identification of vulnerable people and those with mental health issues so they have tailored support to move onto Universal Credit.
- Investment to ensure smaller caseloads for Jobcentre Work Coaches so they have more time to properly identify and support clients who need extra help.
- More partnership working between Jobcentres and organisations like The Salvation Army, which has expertise in helping vulnerable people into work, including digital and budgeting support.
- Claimant Commitments to be personalised so that specific needs around issues like homelessness and domestic abuse are taken into account and people get the right support to help them find a job and stay in it.
In order to demonstrate the ineffectiveness and rigidity of the Universal Credit, the Salvation Army also shared stories featuring service users who have struggled with the system.
Michael, a 36-year-old father said: "I suffer from anxiety and depression and have been coming to The Salvation Army's food bank since I was put on Universal Credit two years ago. It's really tough and I've been sanctioned for missing appointments when I was ill. I've also been sanctioned for not looking online for work, but I don't have access to the internet now because I had to pawn my laptop and my phone to get money to look after my kids."
Rebecca Keating added: "Universal Credit is already the main reason people are coming to our food banks. They come to us for help at the point when they have given up and got themselves into debt trying to manage without the money for rent and food. We are helping those we can but the system is complicated even for those who are not classed as vulnerable and are applying for the standard Job Seekers Allowance who may also struggle.
"Half of people we surveyed said that mental ill health meant they struggled to move on to Universal Credit. The Government needs to seriously rethink the implications of what that means for moving more people onto the benefit."