Providing evidence to support welfare reform

Person walking past job centre

The research

The Welfare Conditionality Project is a collaboration between six universities, with the hub of activity based at the University of York.

At the UofG, Professor Sharon Wright has led research on Universal Credit, Jobseekers and Social Security in Scotland.

Research led by Wright was the first independent study of Universal Credit—the UK working age benefit first introduced in 2013.

It found many problems with the design and implementation of Universal Credit, including financial risks that deepen and extend poverty, and increase the risk of destitution.

Among the key findings were the unmanageably-high cost of the telephone helpline, which meant that claimants had to use their limited income on administration, instead of essentials like food.

The impact

In 2017, Professor Sharon Wright and Dr Lisa Scullion (University of Salford) gave evidence to the National Assembly of Wales on the unaffordable call costs for the telephone helpline, which were as high as 55p per minute.

As a direct result of their research-based recommendations to remove call charges, John Griffiths AM, wrote to the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

One week after Griffiths’ letter, in response to widespread criticism and mounting pressure, the government announced that the telephone helpline would be made free of charge.

It is estimated that those waiting the average time for their call to be answered could have been paying up to £7.63 (with £3.59 of this spent before they had spoken to anyone).

While this may seem like a relatively small amount, during the initial wait for benefits, many claimants have no income, so these charges could push them into debt.

The decision to make the helpline free of charge has benefitted over 8.5 million Universal Credit users since December 2017, allowing claimants to use their limited income on essentials such as food, rent and energy bills.

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First published: 2 June 2021