Challenges of engaging with Universal Credit system impact on the health and wellbeing of people experiencing homelessness

King’s College London, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Groundswell explored experiences of Universal Credit (UC) to understand the welfare reform’s impact on people who are homeless, and how this might affect their health. The research was of exploratory nature and conducted in 2018 and 2019.

Three core areas were highlighted by the research that need to be considered in future reforms so that UC supports health and welfare of people who are homeless:

First, the UC system assumes capacities of spare time, computer skills, internet access, a bank account and being able to self-advocate. Such capacities are especially challenging for people facing multiple health and social challenges linked with homelessness, and contrary to the reasons people need to claim benefits in the first place.

Second, the current system can be uncertain and unclear with regard to payment, sanctions and delays. This in turn can generate stress, anxiety and challenges in securing shelter and other essentials for life.

Third, the processes to demonstrate ill-health, and so the access to UC, are experienced as cumbersome, arbitrary and unfair. Consequently, people struggle to access appropriate support for their health conditions. The researchers furthermore found that little allowance is made within the system for physical and mental health issues, especially long-term ones.

The report Universal Credit: The health impacts for people who are experiencing homelessness can be found here. A blog post by the researchers on how the COVID-19 pandemic poses both challenges and opportunities for making the system fairer in the future can be found here.