Universal simplicity? The alleged simplicity of Universal Credit from administrative and claimant perspectives

David Young, Kate Summers

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Universal Credit is a new means-tested benefit in the UK, that brings together six working-age social security benefits for claimants with a diverse range of needs into one single monthly payment. In the 2010 Government white paper entitled ‘Universal Credit, welfare that works’, simplicity is put forward as intrinsic to achieving several policy goals including improving the claiming process, reducing fraud and error and making work pay and be seen to pay (DWP 2010). While these changes have the potential to bring about some forms of administrative simplicity, they risk shifting (responsibility for) complexity onto claimants themselves.
Within this paper, we distinguish between types of administrative complexity, and types of claimant complexity, and consider to what extent claims of simplicity can be sustained. In particular we focus on features of alleged claimant simplicity by setting out the experiences of participants in two empirical studies of working-age means-tested benefit claimants. One involved interviewing 43 legacy benefit claimants about how they understood and organised their money, and a second consists of interviews with 15 means-tested benefit claimants over time, the majority of whom claimed Universal Credit, about their experience of income change and insecurity.
Together, these studies found short-term processes of money management that included the earmarking of money for specific purposes. These processes can be understood as astute responses to living on a low-income. The paper argues that claimants’ lives, including changing incomes and circumstances, are complex. Aiming to simplify the social security system that interacts with these complex lives has intuitive appeal, but risks hiding instead of reducing complexity, and therefore further imposing the onus of coping with complexity on claimants themselves. The paper concludes by reflecting more broadly on how ‘simplicity’ should be considered as a feature of social security design.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2019
EventThe Foundation for International Studies on Social Security (FISS) conference - Sigtunahöjden, Sigtuna, Stockholm, Sweden
Duration: 10 Jun 201912 Jun 2019


ConferenceThe Foundation for International Studies on Social Security (FISS) conference
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