Universal Credit: Assumptions, Contradictions and Virtual Reality

Jane Millar, Fran Bennett
  • Social Policy and Society, May 2016, Cambridge University Press
  • DOI: 10.1017/s1474746416000154

‘Welfare reform’ and means-tested benefits in the UK

What is it about?

The UK is implementing a major reform to means-tested benefits for people of working age. The new Universal Credit will affect around eight million households by replacing six existing means-tested benefits and tax credits with a single benefit. It will be paid to people both in and out of paid work. This paper summarizes the changes and argues that there is a gap between the assumptions underpinning the design and the research evidence about life on a low income, either out of work or in low-waged and often insecure employment.

Why is it important?

Millions of people will be affected by the changes to the UK’s means-tested benefits system, when the new Universal Credit is introduced, and applied to all working-age people, both in and out of work. It is essential to understand how this major change will work in practice. This is also of interest to policy discussions in many other countries, facing similar issues of in-work poverty and work incentives.


Professor Jane Millar (Author)
University of Bath

Welfare reform affects millions of people, including some of the most economically vulnerable members of our society. In analyzing social policy, we need to pay attention to both the policy goal and the ways of achieving these: the ends and means. This means paying close attention to design and delivery issues, and assessing these in light of research evidence. Detailed scrutiny of Universal Credit raises various issues of concern, and this research draws attention to these i ahead of the full implementation.

Ms Fran Bennett (Author)
University of Oxford

There has been a broad consensus in support of the broad aims of Universal Credit - simplification and improving incentives to work. But as awareness of design flaws increases, as well as concern about delays and reductions in the generosity of the original scheme, it is valuable to examine what Universal Credit will mean in practice.

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The following have contributed to this page: Professor Jane Millar and Ms Fran Bennett