Universal Credit – the health impacts for people who are experiencing homelessness

Research finds that the challenges of engaging with Universal Credit system impacts on the health and wellbeing of  people experiencing homelessness .

Groundswell, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and King’s College London conducted research to explore experiences of Universal Credit to understand the impact welfare reform is having for people who are homeless, and how this might affect their health. The Universal Credit system assumes capacities of spare time, computer skills, internet access, a bank account and being able to self-advocate.Such capacities are challenging for many people, but especially those facing the multiple health and social challenges that are often linked with homelessness.

Read the full research report

Image of front cover of the Universal Credit report
Image of computer on UC website
Graphic showing someone in a sleeping bag
Image of job center

Research Findings

The research was conducted in 2018 and 2019 and explores the impact of the introduction of Universal Credit (UC) on people experiencing homelessness in London. Given that there is already significant research on homelessness and UC, this research aimed to have a more explicit focus on how UC affects health.

The study was exploratory, intending to inform future peer research conducted by Groundswell on the benefits system more broadly and the impact on the health of people experiencing homelessness. The findings should be interpreted in light of the small-scale nature of this research.

The research highlights three core areas that need attention in future reforms if Universal Credit is to support the health and welfare of people who are homeless:

  1. Assumed capacity – the UC system assumes that claimants have a range of social, cultural, and economic resources and capacities. Homelessness can be a cause or consequence of not having enough of these capacities. Furthermore, people experiencing homelessness are also more likely to have physical and mental health issues that can compound the existing challenges of making claims and engaging with the benefits system. The assumption of these capacities is contrary to many of the reasons people need to claim benefits in the first place. Therefore, the The UC system needs to be organised around assuming that people may have a range of vulnerabilities.
  2. Payments, sanctions and delays – the current system can be uncertain and unclear, generating stress, anxiety and challenges in securing shelter and other essentials for life.
  3. Demonstrating ill-health – the processes to demonstrate ill-health, and so access to UC, are described as burdensome, arbitrary and unfair. In consequence, people struggle to access appropriate support for their health conditions. We found that little allowance is made within the system for physical and mental health issues, especially long-term ones.

Read the researchers blog on how the COVID-19 pandemic poses both challenges and opportunities for making the system fairer in the future .