This BBC Series of 3 programmes about Universal Credit is still on iPlayer and available for another 10 months. It’s well worth watching particularly if you’re embarking on making a universal credit claim, either because you would have to anyway or because the Covid 19 crisis leaves you having to apply.
It shows the system at work with lots of insights from not just the claimants but also the Job Centre workers and the civil servants behind the scenes, trying to make the system work and stay working. It shows you the real people, whatever their role, with their problems, the highlights and frustrations. It’s clear that a lot of the Job Centre workers are doing their very best to do their jobs well and trying to stay calm in confrontational situations. Claimants come with all their worries and a host of problems. Some want help and others want to fight the system. Some of the job centre staff are themselves claimants, working during the day for the government and in the evenings on minimum wage second jobs.
Never before will this system have had to cope with so many claims and different sorts of claimants. In the current crisis, it’s going to be a nightmare whether you’re a claimant or you’re working in the Job Centre. It’s going to need patience and calm persistence whichever role you play. But for claimants there’s a key message – that you should keep records of all that you do, you say, you provide or you receive in relation to your claim. In other words, records of all the conversations and the correspondence. That way, if things go wrong and for some they will, you will have an audit trail of what happened and the evidence you will need if you have to complain or appeal.
Many new claimants will be better prepared for this because of having real and recent work experience and skills. The job centre will be coping with a different set of claimants from what they’re used to, more clued up and articulate, which may turn out to be a big problem for them. But in the long run this test of the system may make it easier for claimants in the future when things settle down again.