Universal Credit could be a lifeline in Northern Ireland, but it must be designed with people who use it

To design a social security system that truly acts as an anchor in turbulent times, we must work directly with those experiencing the system and reflect their experience back through compassionate and just design.

Being faced with the forces that can sweep us into poverty is a reality for far too many people in Northern Ireland. The policy recommendations in this report are grounded in the expertise of people living in Northern Ireland and receiving Universal Credit (UC). We look at what lessons the rest of the UK can learn from devolved-level innovations, and provide recommendations for improving the system. Following the coronavirus outbreak, the UK Government responded with some welcome, temporary measures to boost the financial support available, but much more needs to be done as the longer-term impacts of the outbreak emerge to avoid people becoming trapped in poverty.

Recommendations

The UK Government, Northern Ireland Assembly, the Department for Work and Pensions (Great Britain) and Department for Communities (Northern Ireland) need to collectively:

  • Redesign our social security system so that it treats everyone with dignity and respect, as valued members of society.
  • Pay UC at a level that enables people to meet their living costs, including housing.
  • End the five-week wait for a first UC payment to stop UC triggering debt.
  • Make the process of initiating and managing a UC claim more user-friendly.
  • Ensure that the staff delivering UC is well trained, and that recipients have access to independent advice.
  • Protect, enhance and raise awareness of protections available to UC claimants in Northern Ireland.

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