Universal Credit and Social Care – the contradictions

The crisis in the care system.

The ongoing car crash of the Universal Credit roll-out.

Even with Brexit filling the news headlines, these two topics have cut through to the general public. Everyone knows that the care system is under greater and greater strain. Every one knows that the government’s Universal Credit welfare reforms are a shambles. But what about how they affect each other? People on Universal Credit who receive adult social care through their local authority may receive a double whammy of policy hits.

The care system is often thought of as an issue for the elderly, who are largely unaffected by Universal Credit. However, about half of local authority spending on long term adult social care is on adults aged 18-64. That is around £6.5 billion of council spending on around 300,000 working age adults. That spending is largely means-tested so will only be paid out to those who have low enough incomes. Almost all of those people will eventually end up on Universal Credit.

As with many financial reforms over the last few years, government guidance and legislation identifies Universal Credit as an issue then singularly fails to deal with it (see also the localisation of council tax benefit). The Care Act of 2014 was designed to rationalise and modernise the labyrinthine system of care and support that had existed up to that point. Crucially it was designed to end the post code lottery of how much individuals are charged for their care. It postdated the Welfare Reform Act of 2012 but only cursorily mentioned Universal Credit. Instead, the principles of social care means-testing are built on the thirty year old Income Support regulations.

Now, there’s an argument that the Income Support regs are much more robust and certainly more tested. However, the direction of welfare has been towards Universal Credit since long before the Care Act passed through parliament. At some point the Department of Health and Social Care will have to identify the contradiction in the government’s multiple directions and move towards the future. In the interim, the welfare and social care systems will be at odds and people moving onto Universal credit will be at risk of losing out due to insufficient consideration being made towards them.

Even if local authorities are alive to the problems with this system and use their discretion to ensure those on Universal Credit do not lose out, the lack of a uniform approach means the post code lottery the Care Act was supposed to stop will be brought back in.

In the next post in this series I will examine how people receiving financial help with social care could lose out when they move on to Universal Credit and what extra pressures will be placed on them.