Universal Credit and Automated Decision Making: A Case of the Digital Tail Wagging the Policy Dog?

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Intended to simplify the benefit system and 'make work pay', Universal Credit (UC) is the UK's first 'digital by design' benefit. Proponents of UC highlight the greater efficiency and effectiveness of digitalisation, while critics point to costly IT write-offs and the 'digital divide' between people with the skills and resources to access digital technologies, and those without. Less attention has been paid to automation in UC and its effects on the people subject to these rapidly developing technologies. Findings from research exploring couples' experiences of claiming UC suggest that automated processes for assessing entitlement and calculating payment may be creating additional administrative burdens for some claimants. Rigid design parameters built into UC's digital architecture may also restrict options for policy reform. The article calls for a broadening of thinking and research about digitalisation in welfare systems to include questions of administrative burden and the wider effects and impacts on claimants.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Policy and Society
Early online date2 Dec 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Dec 2021


  • automated decision making
  • automation
  • digitalisation
  • Universal Credit
  • welfare reform

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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