Universal credit and the critical need for local public administrative support

According to the Independent, people who receive universal credit are six times more likely than other benefit claimants to fall behind on their rent1.

A separate study by the Citizens Advice Bureau also found that half of universal credit claimants are late in making their rent or mortgage payments, meaning that the situation is no better than before the benefit was introduced1.

Those struggling, despite receiving universal credit, are turning to local councils instead - adding an increasing pressure to already-stretched UK public services. When benefit schemes like this fall short of their objectives, how can public-sector leaders adapt to provide extra support?

The vital role played by local public services

Universal credit was introduced in 2013 as a replacement for six other means-tested benefits, including income support and housing benefit2.

Its national roll-out has been problematic. Rather than being fully implemented by 2017 as planned, the universal credit scheme is now not expected to be completely operational until 2023. The consequences are all too clear; Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Amber Rudd, has publicly linked problems caused by the beleaguered system with a rise in food bank usage3.

Responding to the research, the Local Government Association (LGA) has emphasised the knock-on strain on local councils:

"The ability of councils to provide extra support to people to keep rent arrears down is becoming increasingly limited. [...] Councils want to work with the Government and partners, including Citizens Advice, to ensure that the design and implementation of housing support, welfare reform and universal credit works for people4," said Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the LGA Resource Board.

In the meantime though, it falls to local councils to offer additional services to those in need, in ways that maximise the resources at their disposal.

Finding tailored solutions to the universal credit shortfall

For public-sector leaders working with limited funds, the key to providing extra support lies in the ability to find new approaches and create new opportunities. Today's public servants need to be able to assess existing processes and systems and make improvements to help fund initiatives to mitigate the problem.

This could mean commercialising a public service, widening access to community networks or identifying other benefits or sources of support; each council will have a different set of circumstances to work with. It's up to public-sector leaders to weigh up their own local resources and decide what to change for the better.

Recommended read: What can the collapse of Carillion teach the public-sector about commercialisation?

Developing skills that create new forms of support

Using real-world public-sector scenarios to test new strategies and courses of action is a great way to link theory with practice. This is why case study evaluation is a key part of our Online Masters of Public Administration.

Students gain first-hand practical experience of situational analysis, performance management, and evidence-based decision-making – the key skills required to make a positive difference to real public-sector settings.

Combined with teaching from leading faculty and sharing insights with fellow public-sector professionals from around the world, trialling ideas in a case study context helps students to become resourceful problem-solvers.

"The major challenges I am facing in my current role include the delivery and maintenance of public services with fewer resources [...] The Online Masters of Public Administration is helping me to overcome these by introducing me to more innovative ways of thinking, supported by module leaders who are not only academics but have personal experience of working in the public sector, says Sharon Clayton, Online Masters of Public Administration student.

This applied style of learning can hone the skills needed to free up support for those in need.

If, like Sharon, you think our 100% online programme could help you find public-sector solutions that make a difference, download a brochure today.

1 JAYANETTI, C. & BULMAN, M. (2019) Universal Credit Claimants 'Six Times More Likely' to Fall into Rent Arrears Despite Government Reforms [online] Available at: <https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/universal-credit-rent-arrears-delay-housing-citizens-advice-a8764696.html> [Accessed 12.02.2019]

2 UNKNOWN. (2018) Universal Credit (UC) – What is Universal Credit (UC)? [online] Available at: <https://www.turn2us.org.uk/Benefit-guides/Universal-Credit/What-is-Universal-Credit> [Accessed 12.02.2019]

3 UNKNOWN. (2019) Amber Rudd Links Universal Credit to Rise in Food Bank Use [online] Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-47203389>  [Accessed 12.02.2019]

4 UNKNOWN. (2019) LGA Responds to Citizen's Advice Report on Impact of Universal Credit [online] Available at: <https://www.local.gov.uk/about/news/lga-responds-citizens-advice-report-impact-universal-credit> [Accessed 12.02.2019]


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