Currently there is little political will to sort Universal Credit because policy makers perceive it to be separate to Brexit. Brexit will demand a complete reevaluation of the relationship of our cash transfer system to other systems, to the labour market, the housing market, the care economy and the rule of law, and this crisis is part of that even though it seems unrelated. There is no either or, there is just different facets of the same crisis. We will be forced to address UC through Brexit even if it is not addressed before, and it will be because the political instability generated by UC will jeapordise any Brexit plans, so anyone thinking they can kick this into the grass and deal with it later misunderstands. Addressing UC makes Brexit easier not more difficult. These things are intertwined and policy makers cannot currently see that. The question is how this crisis plays out and what it gives us.
So I thought it was worth putting pen to paper to outline some of the problems with Universal Credit that are not beingdiscussed, outside the minutae of problematic aspects, and I thought it was worth discussing what we do with this crisis, because it’s important.
It’s important to understand the significance of Universal Credit being subject to poliical consensus, and why there was no opposition. Welfare policy is ALWAYS subject to consensus, its why they can have the vicious empty rhetoric as a stable. This is no different. There will always be consensus on this institution and always has been, howver tribalism is presented. Welfare cuts were done by consensus and the new consensus that that is not ok will also be a consensus, but everyone will want to prerend they never agreed with it in the first place.
Labour’s problem is they identified as a representative of the working class and defined the working class by abuse of those on benefits. Once the working class and benefit recipients wereall the same, Labour needed Owen Jones and the elite brats of the Left to hide what austerity was doing and consensus on it.
Contrary to popular opinion Universal Credit is not a new problem. OUr welfare spending has expanded and forces which have been shaping our cash transfer system, financialisation, changing family shapes, the intersection between work, childcare and motherhood, have never been recognised within welfare economics. We have never once used the datat this institution provides to tell us anything about the economy, which is staggering given what it tells..
Welfare economics evolved from a discipline concerned with working men and the state, and when Labour got into power they tried to financialise our welfare system, pursued asset based welfare. Every time changing demographics, ageing populations, children being born, financialisation, crisis, increased our welfare spending, we sought to use the system to expand control over those within it.
What is currently happening with Universal Credit is a crisis is exposing the forces which shape our cash transfer system, what it does, and the belief system shaping it, which is bunk. Unfortunately we spent about 20billion on a computer system which tallies to this bunk belief system and is currently straining against the institution which is trying to establish itself as doing many things. THis is the same belief system which has been trying to use the cash transfer system to recreate a ‘two adult worker model household’ and put women back in the home, and where its punitive aspects are now being expanded to the employed population. This crisis means the end of using our welfare system to abuse people, full stop. But this winter is going to be grim and we need to use this crisis.
What is going to happen?
The government are going to roll out Universal Credit, in the hope that crisis will resolve tension between what was intended and what can be delivered. This is now what will happen. To the people caught up n this, its not reassuring for someone to say right, we have to use this crisis, but we do. The fact is our welfare blueprint has always had the consent of the public and been demanded by the public, consensus is now shifting and the public will want to pretend this is not the case and whoever is delivering this or preventing it being addressed will be burned by this.
What will each layer of this crisis tell us?
Each layer of this crisis will tell us several things:
- What Universal Credit does. Welfare economics does not recognise children, our cash transfer system’s role in bridging labour market inequality, care labour. It does not recognise equality legislation and these crisis will demonstrate that our cash transer system is a dynamic record of the interlinked systems which link families to the economy. A live record of childcare, housing costs, and low wages. It seems obvious that this is what this cash transfer system does, we all fill in our forms. There is not a single welfare economist within earshot of Whitehall who know this. This is why single mothers had to apply to judicial review, demonstrating the links between care labour, motherhood, and the labour market. Welfare economists never did this, this crisis now forces the public to accept this.
- This crisis will categorically expose both the forces shaping the institution and the bullshit belief system shaping it, and the tension between the two. Rapidly.
- Currently policy makers have no idea what this system does, they have no idea they have a stabilising institution whic accurately records a dynamic picture of the interplay between the market economy, families, care labour and inequality. At Monetary Policy Committee level they need this information.
- These crisis will show how systems are linked. We will see in living colour and in crisis where families lose their homes, their livelihoods and their kids, the links between the systems those families need.
- These crisis will show how the system has evolved since the last crisis of this scale. It’s difficult to decide when that was, but it may actually be reasonable to assume this crisis is abouyt flaws in the structure of the post war settlement itsef and will expose flaws in thinking, and the cumulative impact of those flaws over the entire lifespan of the institution. Certainly the problems in UC can be traced to Beveridge, this crisis will expose the inherent contradictions in the belief system that was used to design Universal Credit.
- Because UC takes people who are usually covered by HMRC and not the DWP, the transfer of these people to DWP will expose the dysfunction within that institution. It has been an open secret that the DWP is badly malfunctioning and noone was bothered because it was the unemployed and the sick. Once the working population has been subjected to the DWP, and journalists have shown interest(they are), this exposes the DWP as not functioning. The rollout will mean this is staggered crisis, HMRC are not out of the woods, the rise in self employment makes them central to this even if the bulk of this system is administered by another department.
- These crisis will expose to policy makers which aspects of this system are functioninga nd which are not. Policy makers may not understand this because they do not understand this system or the context in which it operates. It is likely this will result in redefinition of institutions in which the case questions at stake are not about current problems but about how institutions evolve an how to establish institutions which evolve. Which is cheap, it just means connecting those institutions with policy makers. Trade unions are central to this.
- These crisis should expose how our cash transfer system links rule of law and other institutions and is central to maintaining stability..
Power Dynamics and Coercion
We are an odd species, we cant really see power dynamics that well until they become dysfunctional. Once that has happened we go through a process of relearning until we identify certain types of relations as abusive, this is now happening on a grand scale. The continual reflex expansion of coerciona nd control to the working population, will undo the deserving/undeserving divide which has allowed abuse of lone parents, the sick, the unemployed. Once this is done, it cannot be undone. Evolution. We have less than 6 months before this is apparent. Abusive relations and normal relations cannot coexist and once relations become abusive change is required and acknowledgement of that risk and need to manage it, or crisis will escalate until this is exposed.
This is the end of the welfare blueprint that has been used since 1945. We have to use Universal Credit, we need a coherent single system, the only thing we don’t need is the whip. The expansion of that whip cannot succeed and the attempt will generate political instability.
It is important to understand that nothing policy makers did or said will change what this institution eventually looks like. It is redefining its boudnaries through crisis, and will end up the same shape as it always would have done, even if sensible policy had been suggested. The only variable here is the level of political instability it now generates and who benefits
What Govt and Labour have accidentally done is undone the entire welfare blueprint. You can only abuse a minority with deserving/undeserving rhetoric, to deliberately expose the contradictions inherent in the belief, while not being aware you need votes attached to this system, was foolish, However grim this winter is, this is done. Dusted. They cant keep Universal Credit and keep using welfare to abuse people, one has to go, and we dont need a whip fro the poor but we do need a system which allows efficient management of the labour market, care economy and the inequality which shapes the lives of families and women who bridge that gap.
What we need Universal Credit to do
1- Blowing welfare economics out of the water and absolutely proving it is bunk is easy. Look at benefit data, and look backwards checking it for trends and patterns against known events. Financial crisis, changes to family form, birth rate, the labour market. An age of empiricism right there. Current welfare economics uses synthetic inequality modelling and bullshit political science which cant be challenged cos they are contained in elite institutions. (That’s why I went to LSE…cos its one of them).
We have to know what this system does. That it is an accurate and dynamic contained data source which demonstrates the links between the market economy, the family, and inequality long covered by equality legislation. This is a crisis about the context which changed around this system since 1945 and inertia in accomodating change.
2- Equality legislation. Since the days of the Sex Discrimination Act, we have deliberately excluded our welfare systems from equality legislation. So every time there is a crisis and policy makers react by expanding coercion and control, it gets closer to undermining the rule of law itself. This is what Hayek warned of, its what Minsky warned of, its what Keynes knew but modern welfare economics never bothered. We have to apply equality legislation specifically to this institution, and understand that it provides information that Monetary Policy Committee need to monitor the health fo the economy and way inequality shapes it.
3- Even though Child benefit is the passport benefit to tax credits, there has never been any consideration of the legal duties to children laid outr in Children’s Act 1989, or the duties before. Welfare economists and policy makers need to learn to think multidimensionally and welfare policy must as a minimum know what the minimum standards are for families, and not be seeking to undermine them. We are now creating poverty and rescuing children from it.
3- We need to use the data it produces. We need a dynamic record of the link between children, the labour market, blah blah… So basically this whole crisis, all the bullshit, all the harm, is about this. This central point. Because this is not a crisis of an institution, its a crisis of the belief system shaping it meeting the actual forces shaping that institution and there is only one winner here. By next year we should have the political ground were for the first time ever we can use te data our welfare systems provide.
4- In essences we dont need this system to do ANYTHING else, it already does everything we want it to do, but we dont acknowledge its uses. This is a question of repurposing data, not a policy which can shape this system. Criiss are now doing that and are the most efficient way for this to be done. The question is about the political safety of whoever is in power, because those crisis will be felt there. It is important to note that Jeremy Corbyn is the reason UC got this far, he ignored IDS resigning and left UC in the manifesto. But it is likely his abusive thugs will benefit. Which is no more dangerous than te Tories, except they might be.
5- Our cash transfer system was central to the development of the synthesis of institytions which evolved to allow women independence from domestic abuse. We need to understand that this system is central to many other systems, and that ONLY through tis system can we managed demand on those other systems and that the state cannot use our cash transfer system to undermine those systems, even accidentally, without causing crisis. Our welfare system needs to be planned ina way that acknowledges the evolvingr ule of law.. In addition to the 20+ billion UC has cost, we have also generated crisis across institutions using our welfare system. These should roll out over the next year or so. We need to learn from this how systems are linked.
6- Looked After Children are the children of the state, the state has taken parental responsibility for them, the crisis of Universal Credit will impact families with careleavders because they dont have the cusion that allows 6 weeks.
6 Our cash transfer
Clarifying what the system does:
Once we are clear on what this system does, once we are clear that the political ground has shifted under this system, it is a very small matter of accepting what it does, using that data properly., and not using this system to cause political instability and human suffering on this scale again.
Intergenerational Reciprocity. The relationship between the generations is a combination of time and money transfers through te lifespan including care labour. We need the welfare system to allow intergenerational reciprocity to be established, because thats how we fundamentally manage our future care needs. We cant use our welfare system to deliberately generate crisis at the source of intergenerational reciprocity, families with children, because it creates intergenerational crisis which impact spending. We need to start using our benefit data to think long term, instead of the next headline.
Rapidly changing jobs market: We already have a system which perfectly responds to the labour market and provides an absolutely perfect reflection of it, we just dont use the data that way. We now need to. THis should reveal that our cash transfer system is a stabilising institution and is central to our future needs.
Housing: THis system is a reflection of our housing market., It told us our housing market was a mess when the employed population were brought into it, we need to understand it is a stabilising institution and is linked to our housing market. We cant switch that off, we canyt change it but we can use te data better and am fairly sure Mark Carney needs it.
We will need to bring jobcentre infastructure back to functioning, because HMRC need it, and financial literacy services need it, and education provides and we actually need systems linked to the labour market, by people. We have a huge gig economy, this is onlt way tro address it. So the whip will have to be taken out of jobcentres and functionality returned.
The computer system:
It is tempting to try and salvage this system. We are currently throwing everything into salvaging this computer system. No. We need to understand that this crisis is a crisis whic is redefining this system for the next 70 years, we need to use this crisis to establish how we do that in the simplest way possible. It is likely that multiple institutions will be needed, one linked to health., social care the other to the labour market, but UC will have to stay and so it will be the banner for this.
We will end up with a system which relates to the Labour market and one which relates to inequality outside the labour market, the only thing being achieved by fighting for this computer system is delay in accepting that. The only way to salvage this computer system is to strip it down and simplify it, and that cannot be done without taking conditionality out and by the time ytou take that out there isnt much left. The civil service are excellent at accomodating crap systems and ultimately this one will be accommodated, policy makers could help by allowing to be stripped down.
Whatever happens now, however bad this is, its the final hurdle for benefits system and we need a system to emerge which can respond to the economy and an evolving society and which can adapt to the context changing around it in ways we cannot even begin to predict. We wil end up with the benefits system that defines the next 70 years, there is very little that politicians will do to shape that, but the political instability in the meantime is now their problem.
What you can do, you personally,
I cant make the next few months any better, they are going to be fucking awful, and am as likely as any of you to be finding money for the gas meter a struggle but we need to record. We need to record, record, record, keep records, record your interviews, keep your documents, keep records of what you are asked to do. These records are very imporatnt. Keep them meticulously. We can’t do anything about the clusterfuck that is UC, its now in its crisis stage but we can learn from crisis, we can use crisis and we can record what happens during.
PS The productivity problem: LOOK HERE ITS GOT LOADS OF CLUES ABOUT OUR PRODUCTIVITY PUZZLE. Currently obscured by bunk welfare economics.
Trade Union functioning:
Universal Credit has already exposed problems in trade union functioning, in Labour circles and in the elite institutions which provide ‘the left’. Apparently government, opposition and activists were not even remotely aware that this system was linked to equality legislation. This is why the labour left;s movement concentrated on ‘the poor’.
Labour left UC cuts in the manifesto, which is more of a problem than when Tories do it because it exposes that PCS are not functioning., UNISON are not functioning, and the Labour Party are not functioning. Ask Owen Jones, or read Chavs, he will absolutely tell you he absolutely believes the baseline for citizenship in a modern democracy, is whether he pities them. Its why we got the Absolute Boys/Centrist Dad movement which didn’t notice UC.
Tories and Labour have been exposed by this and I don’t think either understand the scale of this at all. Which will be their undoing on not just this.