Continuing confusion about Universal Credit and couples

This blog post was written by Marilyn Howard, Honorary Research Associate at the Law School and doctoral student in the School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol and Fran Bennett, Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Social Policy and Intervention, University of Oxford, and a Visiting Fellow at the University of Bath Institute for Policy Research (IPR).

On 9 March, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee and the Commons Work and Pensions Committee held a joint oral evidence session. The Committees wanted to question the Government about its responses to the reports they had both published recently (see: Economic Affairs Committee report and Commons Work and Pensions Committee report) about Universal Credit (UC). Such a joint session is unprecedented, to our knowledge.

The witnesses were Will Quince MP, Minister for Welfare Delivery, and Neil Couling, Senior Responsible Owner for UC in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). One question was about the potential for separate payments of UC to each partner in couples, to replace the single payment to one account that is currently the default arrangement. This had been favoured by witnesses giving evidence to the Economic Affairs Committee, including both academics and nongovernmental organisations (and including Rita Griffiths from the ESRC-funded Universal Credit and Couples research project based at the University of Bath). But the Government has reiterated that it is unnecessary to introduce such separate payments.

These issues have been raised previously and discussion of them tends to reflect ongoing confusion about how couples manage their money; who currently receives UC in couples; and the Scottish Government’s intention to introduce separate payments. In order to try to clarify these topics, we draw here on our joint article and on our engagement and writing as active members of the Women’s Budget Group, which has carried out gender analysis of UC since it was first mooted.

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What’s yours is mine …. Assumptions about couples in means-tested benefits

This blog post was written by Marilyn Howard, Honorary Research Associate and Doctoral student in the School of Policy Studies, University of Bristol

Couples living together are often assumed to share income and manage finances jointly. This assumption underpins means-tested benefits, which treat a couple as if they were one unit, so that one partner’s income and assets affects the couple’s overall benefit entitlement.

Summarising existing research into money management and control in a briefing for the Women’s Budget Group , Marilyn Howard from the University of Bristol, and Fran Bennett  from the University of Oxford, use these insights to explore the implications for how social security benefits are designed and delivered.

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Finding a better way to identify children experiencing domestic violence

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Natalia Lewis, University of Bristol

Around one in five children in the UK have been exposed to domestic violence or abuse between their parents or caregivers. When adults are involved in an abusive relationship, their children bear the consequences. Continue reading

One benefit, one payee – does Universal Credit encourage financial abuse?

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Marilyn Howard, University of Bristol Law School

The Government’s flagship benefit reform, Universal Credit, could be sailing into choppy waters.
Universal credit aims to simplify benefits and to make work pay. It does this through amalgamating different means-tested benefits and tax credits, paid for different purposes and potentially payable to a different member of a couple. Included in Universal Credit are payments previously paid separately for housing costs and for children (Child Tax Credit). Continue reading