The DWP say that claimants can use libraries and job centre computers to apply to the online-only benefit. But that's not enoughby Jason Murugesu / February 7, 2019 / Leave a comment
By 2023, seven million Britons are expected to be on Universal Credit, which is replacing six “legacy benefits” into one supposedly simple monthly payment. They include people such as those who would have been on housing benefit or income support.
Universal Credit has received a lion’s share of negative press but its two fundamental issues can be boiled down to this: it is a massive welfare cut for some of society’s most vulnerable, including parents and households in disability benefit. It is also overly complicated.
This stems in large part due to the government’s “digital by default” agenda. Universal Credit is essentially online only: The “how to claim” page of the Universal Credit site states clearly that you “need to apply for Universal Credit online,” including having an e-mail address. This has led to people who do not have access to the internet at home, are not computer literate or struggle with English to struggle.
The public library is promoted by the DWP as a port of call for such people. However, when you consider that last year 127 public libraries were closed, 712 full-employees lost their jobs and over the past six years £200 million in funding has been cut, this advice seems like a shirking of responsibility.
Lorensbergs, the company that provides most of our public libraries’ computer booking systems, says that half of public libraries are seeing an increase in users asking for help with digital skills. A recent survey they conducted also found that less than 20 per cent of these libraries are meeting this demand without the use of volunteers.
Nick Poole, the CEO of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, makes the point that “libraries were always about access to information.” That access used to be via books, but now it is through the internet.
When asked whether libraries could be expected to help the extra two million people who will join the new system (due to a new circumstance) this year, Poole sighs, “we’re beyond capacity for this. We’re struggling to keep with the levels of demand we’re seeing now.”
“There aren’t enough computers and there aren’t enough staff hours to help people.”
Poole also notes the significance of the public library to rural communities that still have very slow to no access…