In Brief

Does universal credit discriminate against single parents?

Four female plaintiffs launch legal challenge to government’s flagship welfare programme

Four single working mothers have launched a high court legal challenge against universal credit, arguing the government’s flagship welfare reform programme has a design flaw which leaves some families hundreds of pounds a year worse off.

The women say the flaw, which relates to the way universal credit monthly payments are calculated, disproportionately affects working parents with children and leaves claimants with a “dramatically fluctuating income” and unable to budget from month to month.

In one case uncovered by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) reported by The Guardian, a family’s monthly payment swung from £1,185 to zero, making budgeting impossible.

One of the women, Danielle Johnson, has claimed that as well as being irrational, the payment system is also discriminatory as it disproportionately affects single parents, who are predominantly female.

Last month, veteran MP Frank Field claimed the system was driving women in his constituency into sex work in a bid to avoid complete poverty.

A similar High Court case earlier this year found universal credit was unlawfully discriminating against severely disabled people.

Introduced to simplify the benefits system, rolling six types of payments under the old system into one, universal credit “has proven to be a highly controversial policy for the government”, says HuffPost UK, with delays to initial payments leaving some claimants relying on food banks and struggling to pay their bills.

There have also been reports of IT issues, massive overspends, administrative problems and delays to the scheme's roll-out.

Responding to claims it was fundamentally flawed, Neil Couling, from the Department for Work and Pensions, told the court yesterday that the system relied heavily on automation to process claims.

He added would cost “hundreds of millions of pounds” to redesign and that less than 1% of claimants lost out as a result of the problem.

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