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12 October, 2020 Open access

Welfare reform remains ‘unfinished business’, says Centre for Social Justice

Calling for the reintroduction of universal support, think tank says that the government needs to step up to the plate and finish the job it set out to do in 2012

Welfare reform remains 'unfinished business', the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) think tank has said.

In a new report, that considers the next steps for welfare reform in a post-COVID-19 Britain, the CSJ - whose Dynamic Benefits was the foundation for universal credit introduced as part of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 - says that the coronavirus crisis has led to hundreds of thousands of people losing their jobs and millions making new claims for universal credit. However, with many people struggling to get back into the labour market, the CSJ says that welfare reform is 'unfinished business'.

Highlighting also that many benefit claimants face multiple and complex challenges that increase their vulnerability when applying for universal credit, the CSJ says that a key element of the next steps for reform should be the reintroduction of universal support (that was first trialled in 2014 and run by local authorities, but was discontinued in March 2019) -

'... the trials focused on people who struggled with the personal budgeting aspect of universal credit and those who were at risk of being digitally illiterate. Universal Support 2.0 however is much more. It is about life change and opportunity for people who are not just down on their luck, but people who face severe and multiple disadvantages. It should aim to cover many other aspects of disadvantage (substance abuse, skills deficiency, mental health problems.)'

The CSJ says that Universal Support 2.0 should receive funding of £460 million, guaranteed for five years up to 2025/2026 (starting in 2020/2021), and that the programme should have four key elements - 

Change, the CSJ says, could not come at a more important time - 

'... the economic impacts of COVID have already been disastrous (and are yet not fully known). By the end of this year there could be 5 million people in Britain who want a job but don’t have one ... [A] truly compassionate social security system should be about life change and empowerment, not just a welfare check in the post. Universal support was originally about that; helping people who may be applying for universal credit but also need help in stabilising their housing situation, advice on dealing with burdensome debt, help in accessing educational and skills opportunities, or getting an appointment for a medical diagnosis ...

The Government needs to step up to the plate and finish the job they set out to do in 2012, creating a  truly compassionate social security system that helps change lives for the better.'

Unfinished Business: Next steps for welfare reform in post-Covid Britain is available from centreforsocialjustice.org.uk