Developing practical responses to Universal Credit and welfare reform

02 Oct 2013 |Written by Charlotte Murray

When I was approached to run a workshop at Shelter’s Universal Credit conference (1 October), I was delighted to be asked but slightly nervous; I’m by no means an expert on welfare reform. However the workshop was about digital inclusion and communication so that’s far more up my street.

Setting all issues around Universal Credit aside (of which there are quite a few), I’m very passionate about the potential good that making such a crucial Government service digital by default could have, in terms of encouraging people that now is the time to get online.

This positions Universal Credit as much more of a stick than a carrot but with such a high percentage of the offline population (30%+) citing motivation (or the lack of it) as the reason for not going online, Universal Credit could be just the thing to motivate them to take those crucial first steps, a trend we’re already seeing with Universal Job Match.

Throughout the workshop the point was raised about those people who can’t use the internet (because of illness, disability etc). The ‘digital by default’ definition is key here:

GDS state “By Digital by Default, we mean digital services that are so straightforward and convenient that all those who can use them will choose to do so, whilst those who can’t are not excluded.

From the information shared, DWP say approximately 20% of claimants will fall into the exempt category and will receive face-to-face and phone support to complete Universal Credit. It’s critical to ensure that people have the necessary support (from UK online centres and other places) to develop the digital skills and confidence to access these online services, and very importantly to go further and discover the internet beyond Government services.

There isn’t a lot of information available at present about what the Universal Credit system will look like, but we do know that users will need to create an online account, verify ID, fill in online forms, have a bank account and - due to welfare reform - have financial literacy skills. Based on this information (see UC toolkit for partners), Tinder have been busy creating the Online Plus package to help people start to develop the skills they’ll need in advance to stand a fighting chance of being able to use the online Universal Credit system. The free Online Plus courses include:

How to complete online forms
Making the most of your money, and budgeting
Online banking
Staying safe online (including online ID)
Using facebook (including creating an account and logging in and out)

In October, we’ll also be launching a new tool helping people to use Universal Job Match and we’re keen to develop a Universal Credit myth busting course, how- to guides and a demo for how to use Universal Credit.

From discussions during the workshop it became clear that there are a few issues that people are worried about. Firstly it’s not just about digital skills - literacy/numeracy skills and language barriers can also present real issues. Secondly, there was concern about claimants being able to access all the information and documentations they need for Universal Credit before they begin using the online system. Thirdly, there was much discussion about mobile devices being suggested as the solution to the problem. At present it is not clear if Universal Credit will be designed to be accessed on a phone or a tablet device but the complexity and length of the Universal Credit process will make it extremely difficult for someone to accurately input their information on a mobile device. There’s also a real concern over the number of people with smart phones who will be able to afford to access the internet on their devices.

This week’s workshop and conference has certainly given me further food for thought. Tinder will continue working with DWP to ensure that we can provide the type of support needed on the ground. We’re constantly developing the resources on Learn My Way but we’ll also be looking at adding literacy, numeracy and ESOL resources, as well as a new touchscreen course, to the site to ensure that we’re helping people to develop the right kind of skills and make sure that the move to digital by default doesn’t exclude those who are most in need of this kind of support.