The Work and Pensions Select Committee has published a report into the impact of Universal Credit (UC) on disabled people. The report highlights a number of different challenges that disabled people face when claiming UC, ranging from the impact of the Work Capability Assessment on UC through to the help and advice delivered by Jobcentre Plus Work Coaches.
Shaw Trust submitted both oral and written evidence to this important inquiry. Of particular concern to Shaw Trust is the accessibility of the UC claims process and online journal to disabled people. As the Committee’s report sets out, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has ensured that the process to claim UC and to manage subsequent jobsearch activity is ‘digital by default’. The whole claims process for UC is to be managed online, with Work Coaches also commun icating with individuals claiming UC regularly via their online journals.
Although this digital by default process works for many people, Shaw Trust’s evidence highlights that disabled people can often be disadvantaged by the online nature of UC. 25% of disabled adults have never used the internet compared to 6% of non-disabled adults. Participants on our employment programmes reported issues with the compatibility of their UC online accounts with assistive technology like screen readers. Other disabled people reported problems physically accessing their online accounts, either because they needed support to improve their digital skills, or because they did not own a computer or smart phone on which they could access their online accounts. This led to participants needing to travel to a local library, Shaw Trust office or JCP facility to access their accounts. As Work Coaches communicate with claimants sometimes daily via these accounts, travelling to access these facilities can be costly, challenging and physically exhausting for many disabled people. This is a particular challenge to our participants living in rural areas. In addition, if an individual encounters a problem with their account, or is unable to access it, they face a lengthy wait on the phone with the DWP to get support.
Shaw Trust is pleased to see the Work and Pensions Select Committee supporting our recommendation that digital by default should not be default for everyone. The UC claims process should be accessible via phone and paper copy for those that need it, with assistive technology being available in JCPs, or additional support from Work Coaches, for those that need it. Disabled people should not be disadvantaged by the government’s drive towards digital. As the Committee states, this latest challenge in the way UC is delivered is within the government’s gift to fix. A good initial step forward, which we welcome, is the Department of Work and Pensions announcement that it will fund Citizens Advice to provide Universal Support from April 2019. This advice and assistance will help claimants manage their Universal Credit claim, with a focus on budgeting advice and digital support.
The roll out of UC is part of a complex, changing landscape in welfare provision. Shaw Trust continues to monitor the effect of these changes on people we work with and will continue to share this evidence with the government, officials and other political stakeholders going forward.