Rigid expectations placed on Universal Credit claimants to increase their hours or pay are at odds with the realities of working life in the UK labour market, according to research from Manchester Metropolitan University.
In a new report, presented to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee today (February 25), researchers argue that Universal Credit should focus on supporting people into decent and productive work where their skills and capabilities will be developed and used effectively.
A ‘work first, then work more’ approach facilitated by Universal Credit, which is focused on placing conditions on individual workers, fails to consider long-standing issues of poor work quality and management practices, the research says.
Lead author Dr Katy Jones, Senior Research Associate at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Centre for Decent Work and Productivity, said: “The Department for Work and Pensions claims that Universal Credit will help ‘business to grow’ and ‘improve productivity’, but how this will be achieved is unclear.
“At a time of low unemployment, but also low productivity, the key challenge for policymakers is not moving people into work, but ensuring that, where appropriate, Universal Credit claimants are supported into decent and productive jobs where their skills and capabilities will be developed and utilised.”
The report, funded by the Productivity Insights Network, also explains how current policies fail to address the needs of unemployed workers and appear to be in conflict with broader policy agendas focused on improving productivity and the quality of work in the UK.
Researchers spoke to 12 employers, including SMEs and large corporations across a range of sectors, to gather their understanding on the nature of work and productivity as well as their views on the potential introduction of ‘in-work conditionality’ (IWC) to welfare claimants on a low income.
Under this new policy, working social security claimants may be expected to increase their pay by searching for and applying for additional work or taking on extra hours.
Concerns from employers are outlined in the report, Universal Credit and In-Work Conditionality – a productive turn?, from the Manchester Metropolitan researchers.
One employer, a soft play centre for children, told researchers: “We love it when people want to progress in the business, but there aren’t so many managerial positions that we have here, so it’s difficult to really progress that far…unless we give somebody extra responsibilities, they’re all on a very similar wage.”
Employers interviewed in the report also expressed concerns about the impact of the new policy on workers themselves.
Another employer, a housing association, said: “It’s not about the process or the ticking of a box; it’s actually about the career management of that person to help them grow into something else…helping them find the right work, rather than just any work.”
Dr Jones will present evidence from the report to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee in Westminster later today.
The committee will examine whether Universal Credit is meeting its original objectives as well as the extent to which its design meets the needs of claimants in today’s labour market and changing world of work.