Harlesden, Northwest London PYMCA/UIG via Getty Images

When Welfare Sabotages Lives

The United Kingdom’s new welfare program, intended to encourage recipients to seek employment, has had a rocky start. As leaders work to improve the "universal credit" approach, they should consider how scarcity and fear play into the decision-making of those on the receiving end of government support.

OXFORD – As Christmas approaches, the United Kingdom is accelerating the rollout of a social security scheme only Ebenezer Scrooge could love. The “universal credit” program replaces six different welfare benefits – such as the child tax credit and the housing benefit – with one. The goal is to incentivize employment, and to create an online system that is easier to use.

That’s the idea, anyway. Unfortunately, the new system’s rollout has been rocky. A minimum 42-day wait for the first payment has meant that some families have been left penniless for as long as six weeks. When money has arrived, many recipients have found that their benefits have been reduced. And in areas where universal credit has been widely implemented, referrals to food banks are increasing, as are evictions.

But, for all the dramatic headlines, there is a deeper, unreported problem with the UK’s welfare reform: rather than reduce poverty, it could actually exacerbate it.

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