Academic gives evidence about Universal Credit before Commons Select Committee

A Fuse academic has addressed a House of Commons Select Committee on the impact of Universal Credit and the problems that claimants experience during the wait for a first payment.

Dr Mandy Cheetham, Postdoctoral Research Associate with Fuse and Teesside University’s School of Health & Life Sciences, has today (Wednesday) given evidence to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee scrutinises the policies and spending of the Department for Work and Pensions, including benefits for people in and out of work.  The latest oral evidence session heard evidence on the problems that claimants experience during the minimum five week wait for a first payment, from national organisations, think tanks and academics about the possible policy solutions.

The session explored the effects of the wait on people claiming UC, along with the wider health and economic impacts, the effectiveness of Advance Payments and other options for mitigating the impact of the wait.

Watch Parliament TV: Universal Credit: the wait for a first payment

Mandy said: "It is a privilege to have the opportunity to speak to MPs about the findings from the qualitative research with Universal Credit claimants and staff undertaken in North East England, following submission of our written evidence. I really hope the findings will help inform future policy changes to improve outcomes for claimants."

Dr Cheetham previously led a research study which was published in BMJ Open (2019). It found that people moved onto Universal Credit are fighting to survive and are being forced into debt, rent arrears and extreme hardship, with serious consequences for their health and wellbeing.

The study focused on the experiences of vulnerable people and advice and support staff in a Universal Credit area. It was commissioned by Gateshead Council, and undertaken with support from Fuse and colleagues Dr Suzanne Moffatt from Newcastle University and Dr Michelle Addison from Northumbria University.

The published report found that the aims of Universal Credit, to simplify the benefits system and move people into work, are simply not being met.  Instead, people moving onto Universal Credit, who participated in the study including those with disabilities, health problems or complex lives, reported an average delay of seven-and-a-half weeks before receiving their first UC payment.  As well as this, once the payment is received, deductions for advance payments and rent arrears are leaving people without enough money to eat or pay essential bills.

Dr Cheetham, who has spent the last five years working as a Fuse researcher-in-residence with Gateshead Council Public Health team, said: “Claimants were under severe stress as a result of the claims process and some people had been so low they said they had considered suicide. The process of claiming, waiting for a payment and then trying to survive on Universal Credit, with the constant threat of sanctions was making people increasingly anxious and depressed, and worsening existing health problems.”

The research received national media coverage including exclusive coverage in the Guardian and Dr Cheetham met Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights when he visited the UK in November 2018.  The research was cited in the final report.  Mandy also gave evidence to the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International in person about the impact of the roll out of Universal Credit.

The researchers also submitted written evidence to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee about the impact of Universal Credit, which was published earlier this year, and have been involved in developing a Universal Credit theatre performance, in collaboration with Cap-a-Pie theatre company, drawing on the research, funded by Newcastle University, Arts Council England, The Catherine Cookson Foundation and Gateshead Council.

Last modified: Wed, 17 Jun 2020 15:07:10 BST