THE poorest people in England and Wales have been forced into homelessness and driven to crime by the government’s universal credit benefits system, a report revealed today.
The study found that the “landmark reform,” which left Britain’s most desperate people having to wait five weeks for their first payment, had “imposed large societal costs,” including home repossessions, burglaries and vehicle crime costing society almost £500 million.
Researchers at the University of Sussex business school estimate that the gradual rolling out of universal credit led to an average 4 per cent rise in repossession orders from the social housing sector across the local areas affected — about 6,000 in total — and resulted in a 2.5 per cent increase in economically motivated crime.
The increased crime included more than 35,000 burglaries and 25,000 vehicle crimes at a cost of more than £465m.
The analysis covers the period from December 2010 to February 2019.
Dr Rocco d’Este, one of the researchers, said that the study had found “wide-reaching negative impacts of universal credit on recipients’ financial instability and on economically motivated crimes.”
He said: “By focusing on the rollout of universal credit across constituencies, targeting first-time predominantly young male claimants, our findings highlight the danger of welfare policies affecting the economic incentives of individuals at the very bottom of the income distribution.
“The work recommends minimising unnecessary payment delays to recipients, which can hugely affect people already struggling.
“Also, our work suggests that imposing financial sanctions on universal credit recipients — in the attempt to incentivise their transition toward employment — in some cases may backfire, leading to an increase in acquisitive crimes.”
Linda Burnip of direct action group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said: “This evidence supports what DPAC has always criticised [universal credit] for, with the five-week wait for the first payment pushing people into greater poverty.
“Getting an up-front loan which then has to be repaid by taking a large chunk of your normal monthly payment is of no real help with budgeting either.
“Obviously, if people are left with no other means of survival, they are forced into criminal activity or prostitution.”
The government claimed that there was “no evidence” of universal credit causing crime.