By Sarah Weakley, Policy Scotland Research and Impact Officer
This is the third working paper in the series on Universal Credit in Glasgow and Scotland. It uses publicly available Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) data to investigate the income crisis among low income people who access Universal Credit in Scotland during the COVID-19 pandemic with a focus on data at the Glasgow City local authority level.
This supplements labour market data reported at a larger geographic scale. The data contained in this report stretches to late autumn 2020. The longer time horizon of three quarters since the first working paper allows us to see how Universal Credit caseload trends illustrate the scale of the crisis and the groups most impacted. This paper report on these trends and considers the implications of these trends on policy and practice.
- End of the shock, but high need remains: As of November 2020, there were just over 71,000 people on the Universal Credit caseload in Glasgow – 88% higher than in early March 2020.
- Staying on for longer: One of the more worrying issues is that very few people have been able to leave the Universal Credit caseload if they started in the spring. 28,000 people in Glasgow who started Universal Credit in the spring have been unable to leave it within six months; 71% of the total Glasgow caseload has been receiving support between 6 months and 2 years.
- In-work crises: The pandemic has exacerbated the crisis of in-work poverty which appears in Universal Credit data, as it is a programme that serves low-income people both in and out of work. More working people than ever are having to access Universal Credit due to labour market disruption.
- Conditionality: 44,000 people on Universal Credit in Glasgow are subject to conditionality – the highest figure on record – which includes both those out of work and those in work but whose income from work is not above the earnings threshold. New research continues to assert that conditionality requirements are mismatched with the current labour market context and needs of claimants, and that benefit sanctions are counterproductive, particularly for claimants who are already attached to the labour market.
- Adequacy, debt and long-term impacts: The level of support in the UK social security system are meagre by design, with eligibility criteria very low so that people who are accessing the system are doing so as a ‘last resort’ with very little savings or support to fall back on. Longer durations on Universal Credit means that people have been living on persistent low incomes, with many households falling deeper into debt and having to go without essentials. The £20 uplift in the Universal Credit standard allowance in March 2020 kept many more families from falling deeper into poverty, but this is set to expire in April 2021 and should be kept and extended to those on legacy benefits to keep people afloat during this continued crisis period.
This Universal Credit data reported on in this working paper illustrates the increased levels of need in Scotland and in Glasgow because of this crisis. Higher caseloads will likely remain in the first quarter of 2021 and flaws in the programme design means that more people are likely finding it challenging to cope in conditionality regimes and are having to survive on low levels of assistance due to debt. It will be up to leaders at all levels of government to fill in the gaps in provision for people facing the sharpest ends of this crisis now, and work to advocate for larger changes to the welfare state to improve it.