A key aim of Universal Credit is to simplify the social security system. While several aspects of its introduction have received critical attention, this overarching aim continues to receive acceptance and support. Drawing on two empirical studies involving means-tested benefit claimants, we aim to deconstruct the idea of ‘simplicity’ as a feature of social security design and argue that it is contingent on perspective. We suggest that claims of simplicity can often be justified from an administrative perspective but are not experienced as such from the perspective of claimants, who instead can face greater responsibility for managing complexity.
The Commission on Social Security, led by Experts by Experience, is an ongoing participatory project that aims to produce proposals for an alternative, improved, future of working-age social security. Led by Commissioners who have direct experience of social security receipt, and supported by a secretariat (Dr Michael Orton, Dr Kate Summers, and Dr Rosa Morris), the Commissioners have, over the last two years, combined their own expertise with those of grassroots organisations and individuals across London and the rest of the UK to envisage ways forward for the social security system. This chapter discusses the participatory approach developed by the Commission, and draws some key methodological reflections and conclusions. The chapter is structured around, a) tensions between the urgency to act and plan for the long term; b) the realities of inclusion and accessibility; and c) challenges around capacity building.
Welfare at a (Social) Distance is a longitudinal research project examining experiences of social security and employment support in the context of COVID-19. It focuses both on existing claimants and people who have encountered the system for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic. The project comprises (i) a three-stage claimant survey of 4,000 recent UC claimants and 4,000 pre-existing UC/ESA/JSA claimants (using YouGov’s online panel), (ii) qualitative case studies of local ecosystems of support for working-age benefit recipients (in Leeds, Newham, Salford and Thanet), and (iii) longitudinal qualitative research with recipients of working-age benefits who were interviewed (twice during 2020/21) about their experiences of the social security system during the COVID-19 pandemic. This chapter draws upon research conducted during the ‘first spike’ of COVID-19 (June–September 2020), with approximately 40 participants who were either living with children in their household, or young adults who had ‘boomeranged’ back into their parents’ home during the pandemic. The chapter will explore experiences of social security and employment support during the pandemic, focusing upon people’s knowledge of the system, experiences of the application process and remote support, and the adequacy of the income that they received.