The government has been clear from the outset that Universal Credit is primarily a digitally driven benefit. One would have been forgiven for assuming that before embarking upon the mission of putting the claimant’s eggs in the digital basket, it would have taken steps to identify the impact of this policy and how many people it is likely to exclude. Shockingly, it appears not! A recent Freedom of Information request by HuffPost UK, has revealed that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has no idea how many Universal Credit claimants are unable to use its digital platform to make their claim.

Despite being two years and seven months into the roll-out of the ‘digital by default’ benefit, the DWP has admitted that it holds no data on the number of claimants trying to claim Universal Credit by other means. In the official response to HuffPost UK’s question about how many of the 1.2 million people currently receiving Universal Credit originally made their claims by non-digital methods, the DWP’s Freedom of Information Officer confirmed that “the information you requested about the current Universal Credit caseload is not held by this department.”

This is an issue of particular concern to Aspire and the people we support. Our Assistive Technology team supports people with spinal cord injury to become familiar with a range of assistive technology products, such as Dragon speech recognition, Integramouse, Headmouse nano and Trackerpro Eye tracking hardware and software. All of these are designed to enable disabled people to maintain access to digital technology and the array of services, products and opportunities it hosts.

In January we wrote to the Minister for Disabled People expressing our concerns about the digital nature of Universal Credit and the extent to which the design of the online platform will be compatible with these assistive technology products. We are still awaiting a reply, but hope this will be more successful than past attempts to meet DWP officials to discuss these critical concerns in more detail, or more importantly, test the Universal Credit platform for compatibility with these vital products.

This is a matter of great concern to our Welfare Benefits Advice team, whose role it is to support people with spinal cord injury to overcome the barriers to obtaining the benefits they’re entitled to. The news that the department has, to date, apparently deemed it unnecessary to establish the extent to which its adherence to digital by default is actively excluding vulnerable people from obtaining critical and timely welfare benefits, is to say the least, not encouraging!

The DWP has allocated £39m to the Citizens Advice Bureau to assist people with Universal Credit claims. That the DWP has no idea how many people will be adversely impacted by ‘digital by default' has to raise questions as to whether this sum will be sufficient. The DWP’s failure to assess the impact of ‘digital by default, but to press ahead regardless, can only be described as reckless. Throwing money at the Citizens Advice Bureau to help people overcome Universal Credit’s structural failings can hardly be described as the government owning the problem. A problem of its own making.

The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) has launched a Universal Credit survey so that they can find out more about the experiences of disabled people and people with long term health conditions.  Aspire is a member of the Disability Benefits Consortium.  Take the DBC Universal Credit Survey

If you have a spinal cord injury and would like advice about the benefits you are entitled to please contact our Welfare Benefits Advice Service Call now on 020 8420 6711.