The government claimed that Universal Credit (UC) would be a ‘fairer and simpler system’ for claimants. But as it continues to be rolled out, more problems come to the fore, and early indications suggest that the move towards UC ‘full service’ across the country will lead to even greater disparities in claimants’ experience. These disparities are likely to be felt particularly harshly by Gypsies and Travellers – yet there’s a paucity of information about them.
We already know from the EHRC’s analysis of tax and welfare reforms since 2010, which looked at tax changes, benefits, tax credits and UC, that those on lower incomes are being hit the hardest. But what the EHRC research doesn’t look at is the differential impact on smaller marginalised groups. The survey data which underpins its analysis (the Family Resources Survey and the Living Costs and Food Survey) condenses ‘England/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish/British, Irish, Gypsy or Irish Traveller, and any other White background’ into the ‘white’ category, so any nuance or differentiations are lost. The same problem arises within the DWP itself: the Equality Impact Assessment of the Welfare Reform Bill carried out by the DWP in 2011 gave no specific information on Gypsies and Travellers.
This absence of data matters because a number of aspects of UC are likely to have a disproportionate effect on Gypsies and Travellers, especially as we proceed to full rollout. Below we highlight a number of problem areas for these groups – yet the absence of data reduces pressure on DWP to address them.
While technological advancements to help claimants can be a positive, the insistence on online application for UC will create challenges for those without appropriate access to the internet or sufficient skills in IT, literacy and numeracy. Gypsies and Travellers experience some of the lowest literacy rates of any group – Friends Families and Travellers’ analysis of the Travellers they work with shows that 45% have low or no literacy.
Meanwhile, internet access is required not just for the initial application for UC, but claimants are also required to log on to their online diary every day to provide evidence of their job search activity. But a 2013 report by the Irish Traveller Movement in Britain and Leeds GATE concluded that national internet access rates for Gypsies and Travellers were significantly below 60%, and travel to a Jobcentre or library …