The impact of Universal Credit on the health wellbeing of single adults in particular of mothers of child bearing age and their offspring is very far from providing adequate and fair social security

6 February 2020


Submission to the


Inquiry in to the

The economics of the Universal Credit

Terms of reference.

Lord Forsyth commented.

“Our Committee will consider if the original objectives of Universal Credit are still fit for purpose and able to provide adequate and fair social security. We will then make our recommendations to Government in due course. To inform our work we want to hear from as broad a range of people as possible. If you have a view on Universal Credit, look at our call for evidence and let us know what you think."

Our view is that the original objectives of Universal Credit were never fit for the purpose and were never able to provide adequate and fair social security. The impact of Universal Credit on the health & wellbeing of single adults, in particular of mothers of child bearing age and their offspring is very far from providing adequate and fair social security.  

You ask “Which claimants have benefited most from the Universal Credit reforms and which have lost out?” The evidence shows that single adults were losing out before Universal Credit was conceived and their needs for an adequate minimum income in work and in unemployment continued to be ignored by the architects the of Universal Credit.

The adult unemployment benefit

The babies of poor mothers have an increasing rate of infant deaths and the highest rate of low birthweight

  1. A woman needs a healthy diet both before and during pregnancy to give birth to a healthy baby.
  2. Adult single men also suffer from the inadequacy of JSA/UC.
  3. The Universal Credit and the housing market are incompatible


We suggest that the Universal Credit (UC) is built on the sands of a deeply inadequate adult unemployment benefit which creates preventable economic, health and humanitarian costs from birth among low income families. The good health and wellbeing of all UK citizens in or out of work must now become a national priority.

The outgoing Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) of £73.10 a week equates to the incoming UC of £317 a month. All other benefits are added to them[1].


  1. A woman needs a healthy diet both before and during pregnancy to give birth to a healthy baby.
  1. We learn from 2019 Minimum Income Standards research of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation that the cost of a healthy diet for a single adult in April 2019 was £49.64 a week leaving £23.46 in JSA/UC a week for fuel, clothes, transport and other necessities. See attachment.
  2. The food budget is based on nutritional standards by nutritionists at York University, turned into weekly menus, checked with potential users, priced in supermarkets and then put to the public for approval. 
  3. The incapacity of JSA/UC to buy a healthy diet as well as other necessities is further reduced by council tax charged against benefits in 290 out of 326 English Councils. JSA/UC is also reduced by rent because both housing and council tax benefits have been cut since 2013.
  4. Further to the inadequacy of the level of JSA/UC there are times when women have no income owing to the five week wait for the first payment of Universal Credit and/or a benefit sanction lasting for weeks or up to three months. Three days food from a food bank is not sufficient for a nine month pregnancy.  
  5. Professor Jonathan Bradshaw reported in May 2009, “When unemployment benefit started in 1912 it was 7 shillings a week - about 22% of average male earnings in manufacturing. The percentage fluctuated over the succeeding decades, but by 1979 the benefit rate was still about 21% of average earnings (manual and non-manual, male and female). By 2008, however, as a result of the policy of tying benefits to the price index while real earnings increased, the renamed jobseeker's allowance had fallen to an all-time low of 10.5% of average earnings”.
  6. IPPR reports that UC needs fundamental reform to make it a ‘safety net, not a “tight rope”. They found  that social security payments have reached their lowest level since 1948 compared to average earnings, after years in which the real value of benefits has lagged behind wage growth – culminating in the recent benefits freeze. When Unemployment Benefit was first introduced in 1948 it was equivalent to 20 per cent of average weekly earnings, whereas comparable Universal Credit Standard Allowance payments have fallen to just 12.5 per cent of average earnings today.


  1. Baroness Finlay of Llandaff. 25 Jan 2010: Column GC249
    “In the time available, I could not do justice to the crucial importance of nutrition during pregnancy and infancy in tackling disadvantage. The noble Lord, Lord Freud, touched on the importance of maternal nutrition, and I should like to elaborate a little further. In brief, it is becoming apparent that low birth weights, of which Britain has the highest rate in Western Europe, are associated with poor cognitive abilities and serious brain disorders such as cerebral palsy.
  2. I remind the Committee that I come from south Wales, where we have the tragedy of the highest epidemic of spina bifida and anencephaly through folate deficiency. That was due to diet. Since folate supplements have come in, we have seen that drop dramatically. If you do not get diet right in pregnancy, you store up problems that will be there for the whole of the child's life, from the moment it is born.
  3. In 2002, Sir Derek Wanless's report to the Department of Health, Securing Good Health for the Whole Population, expounded an egalitarian sentiment, harmonious with the spirit of Every Child Matters. He identified birth rate as a pivotal cause of a vicious cycle of poor health; he recognised that the cycle repeats itself from generation to generation and traps communities in poverty and health inequality. The cycle of poverty will remain repetitive and relentless unless we have the courage to tackle its very core and root that out. That is what the amendment seeks to do.
  4. By identifying the amount necessary to ensure pregnant women and children have sufficient money to eat properly, my amendment aims to tackle the origins of this crisis in a serious and effective way.
  5. The Minister in another place reminded us that a health and pregnancy grant is available to women from the 25th week of pregnancy, but that is far too late. From the time of conception and in those early phases of cell division, long before you might say that the foetus is medically viable, is when the nutritional influences probably have their major effect. We have to get this dealt with pre-conception, let alone from birth.”


The Savings Account and Health in Pregnancy Grant Act 2010

  1. That was one of the first Acts passed by the new government in 2010. It abolished saving accounts and the health in pregnancy grant introduced by the previous government in 2009.

Kate Green MP, 22 November 2010, clmn 108

  1. “Low-birthweight babies suffer particularly poor long-term outcomes in health and education and there is considerable evidence that poor maternal nutrition affects babies’ pre-birth development, including brain development. It is therefore very important to take every step we can as early as we can to improve maternal nutrition and therefore the chances of children being born healthy. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) has already mentioned that the grant, which is linked to nutritional objectives, has enabled us to begin developing healthier eating habits in new mothers that would continue right through until after their child’s birth and on into family eating habits”.


Professor David Robinson Taylor, University of Liverpool.

  1.  He spells out the impact on child health of low income in this set of slides in Child Health is unravelling in the UK. It is the babies of the women with the lowest incomes who suffer increasing low birthweight and have the greatest risk of infant deaths, as he illustrates in this graph published by the BMJ and is illustrated by the table below it about low birthweight in the London Borough of Haringey. (I attend the Parish Church of the Northumberland Park ward, which is the most deprived ward in the borough and among 5% of the most deprived wards  in the UK according to the 2011 census). Further robust evidence on low incomes, housing, and health is available on our  website RESOURCES INDEX



Professor Michael Crawford of the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition

  1. In 2007 he wrote a brief for parliamentary lobbying. It included;
    1. “The incidence of low birthweight a hall mark of future physical and mental ill health has risen since 1973 in the UK
    2. In 1972 it was predicted that brain disorders would rise following on the rise in death from heart disease. The prediction was based on similar nutritional requirements for specialised dietary fatty acids and their associated nutrient cluster.  That prediction has now been realised.
    3. Although the national diet improved during the last century, a fundamental flaw crept in the last 4 decades because of a lack of knowledge on the requirement of specialised fats for the development and health of the brain and arteries.
    4. Several national and international expert committees on diet and health have commented on the flaw. However, little action has been taken because of want for of relevant knowledge.
    5.  The required recommendations have been voiced by the Black, Acheson and Wanless reports with the exception of addressing fundamental flaws in the food chain.
    6. It now requires bold, interdepartmental initiatives by government and local governments on food production, distribution, public and school education, and investment in prevention by the NHS and research councils which currently prioritises drug development.[2]


  1. Michael Crawford’s lobbying brief also included; “In the UK money is overwhelmingly spent on treatment, palliative care and secondary prevention. Primary prevention is largely ignored.  Primary prevention at the start of life needs priority implementation[3].
    1. The 1970s Neuberger report on Nutrition Research to the Medical Research Council recommended research done on the “cause of low birthweight and its associated handicaps”.
    2. The Black report of 1980 spelt out the wide nature of the problem and what should be done.
    3. The Winterton 1990-91 Commons Select Committee on Maternity Services requested action on low birthweight and the inequality of health.
    4. The Acheson report of 1998 and that of
    5. Derek Wanless 2005 echoed these sentiments, the need for prevention and adopting the principles laid out by the previous Black Report of 1980.
    6. Since then Michael Marmot yet again echoed these sentiments in 2010


Dr Angela Donkin, Institute of Health Equity.

  1.  The hazards of low income were described by Dr Angela Donkin when she was at the Institute of Health Equity.


  1. “Income can impact on health in different ways.  Income impacts on health directly, for instance, because of insufficient money to heat your home or buy a healthy balanced diet. Cold homes increase rates of respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, excess winter deaths and mental illness.  Inadequate diets increase the risk of malnutrition, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.   
  2. Low income, and particularly debt or insufficient income also impact on health indirectly through increased stress, depression and anxiety, and sub optimal coping behaviours – such as increased rates of smoking and drinking”.


  1. Adult single men also suffer from the inadequacy of JSA/UC.
  1.  I helped John Smith, name changed, through the traumatic aftermath of a benefit sanction. Three powerful government department​s had descended on a single unemployed adult with a history of depression. The DWP stopped his income and the DCLG/Local authority enforced rent and council tax arrears, and the MOJ enforced a TV licence fine, all with threats of eviction, the bailiffs and prison. 
  2. During a three month sanction the unmanageable debts pile up. When it ends they are enforced against the totally inadequate JSA/UC. He was then told his block of flats was due for demolition. He was speaking to me about his thoughts of throwing himself off the balcony of his 5th floor council flat. 
  3. These extreme punishments imposed by the State, extending to over a year due to the enforcement of debts after the sanction ends. The punishment was disproportionate to the offence of missing an appointment. John Smith did not receive a fair trial at the Jobcentre.
  4. Then the bailiffs called on John Smith to enforce a TV licence fine. They were demanding £425 including their fees.  I told them I was taking the case back the Magistrates Court. This is the case I put to the court as a McKenzie Friend.  –

To the Magistrates Highbury Corner - 9 March 2015

  1. We are asking you for a statutory declaration or the remission of £135 fine in full and the dismissal of the bailiffs.
  2. The fine should never have been imposed, he is a vulnerable person as described by the Ministry of Justice; he also cannot afford to pay.
  3. Mr John Smith has no previous record.
  4. The first he heard of the fine was when the Bailiffs called to tell him he had been fined for TV licence evasion demanding £445 down at 7.30 in the morning.
  5. He protested that was impossible because the TV licence authority representative had frequently told him he was not liable because his TV set is only used for games and DVDs.  He does not require a TV licence. He has no TV or broadband account. Two men from the TV licencing authority have inspected his flat and agreed with him.
  6. He called PN at 8am the same morning who informed Marston about Mr John Smith’s circumstances and they agreed to suspend the bailiff action.
  7. Mr Smith has a long history of anxiety and depression and has been treated in the NHS psychological services. 
  8. On the 1st January 2014 he was sanctioned for three months for attending an interview on the wrong day. 
  9. His housing and council tax benefits were stopped creating rent and council tax arrears. He is still paying off rent arears at £10 every two weeks out of his £72.40 a week adult unemployment benefit (ESA).
  1. It was after the sanction that NHS psychological services referred him for 12 fifty minute sessions of therapy. He received a letter from Haringey Council this week giving notice of intended demolition of the block of flats where he lives.
  2. The court’s attention is drawn to Joseph Rowntree minimum food standard for a healthy diet of £43 a week and the impossibility of buying such a diet and all other necessities on £72.40 a week which will be raised by 1% on April 1st 2015 to £73.10.
  3. Mr Smith’s mental health is not improved by debt. The court’s attention is drawn to the link between debt and mental health problems, which has been reported on by the Government Office for Science and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.   One in four people has a mental health problem;
    1. One in four people with a mental health problem is in debt
    2. One in two people in debt have a mental health problem
    3. Debt may be a cause and a consequence of mental health problems

24.He  then got an agency job on a zero hours contract. He worked the first month earning £1009.35.There was no work in the second month for which Universal Credit paid him £0.01 paid into his bank by the DWP. The debts continued to pile up. 


  1. The Universal Credit and the Housing market are incompatible
  1. No study of Universal Credit will be complete without a study of the impact of ever rising rents and council tax imposed against inadequate UC levels owing to cut housing and council tax benefits. More and more homeless individuals are sofa surfing or on the streets and homeless families are living in temporary accommodation some for up to or over ten years. Many homeless people are employed and struggling with UC.  Here are some examples for the committee’s consideration. The UC creates unmanageable personal debt, rent and council tax arrears.
  2. Low income renters have nothing to fall back on if they fall on hard times and  are unable to pay the council tax, the rent or the TV licence or repay benefit overpayments. The home owner often has positive equity in their property to see them through debts during unemployment. We suggest the inequality between renters and homeowners or tenants and landlords is one of the great unsung injustices of this generation.  Yet the debts against them all are enforced with equal ferocity by the DWP, Local Authorities, landlords and the BBC using the very expensive bailiffs.  
  3. Housing costs are disastrously eating into the incomes of low income renters taking the income needed for food, fuel, clothes, transport and other necessities.





  1. I could do nothing for a single unemployed man evicted from a council flat because he had a spare bedroom. There were no affordable single rooms for him to move to. The bed room tax cut housing benefit so his £73.10 week single adult JSA, which is not enough to live on, had to pay rent and council tax. Council tax benefit was also cut. He was therefore expected to pay both rent and council tax out of outgoing £73.10 a week JSA, which equates to the incoming £317 a month Universal Credit.  It has been losing value since 1979.



  1. In Haringey there are two homeless hostels each with 50 families each family in one bedroom. The share bathrooms and kitchen. Some have been there for two years and have no idea where they will be placed or whether they will be able to afford the rent.
  2. There is also a self-starting Church in a warehouse. Each night the warehouse floor accommodates 50 single adults, many of whom go to work in the morning.



Families and their children are at the mercy of council officials and private landlords who compound the daily uncertainty of it all by moving them several times from one temporary abode to another. That disrupts the children’s education tearing them out of one community after another. One couple with two children one parent employed was;

  1. Moved out by a landlord who defaulted on the mortgage
  2. Into a flat where the upstairs toilet was leaking into their kitchen.
  3. Move into a buy to let who wanted his property back to sell and take the profit.
  4. Evicted on to the street by the bailiffs when they changed the locks.
  5. Spent eight hours in the council offices waiting to be moved into a homeless hostel with single men suffering from various addictions  
  6. Then moved into Haringey’s Love Lane Estate which is due for demolition to make way for a posh walkway from the new White Hart Lane station to the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
  7. Before 2012 families were placed in council housing at council rents. But we’ve lost two million council properties. Since 2012 councils can compel homeless families to move into the private rented sector so increasing their rent from £90 a week to over £300 a week a for a two bedroomed home.  

Rev Paul Nicolson, Founder, Taxpayers Against Poverty, 6th February 2020.

The Rev Paul Nicolson founded the Zachaeus 2000 Trust (Z2K) in 1997 to work with families and individuals struggling to survive on inadequate benefits. The Trust now cares for over 1200 such Londoners a year and lobbies parliament. Concerned at about laws which enable the Charity Commission to censor the political statements by charities working with and for the poorest UK citizens, he founded Taxpayers Against Poverty (TAP). It is not a charity but is a not for profit company registered and Companies House. TAP has a growing social media presence. We campaign with and for homeless families in temporary accommodation, against the taxation of benefit incomes by councils and against other injustices. Both Z2K and TAP work without allegiance to any political party with and for the poorest UK citizens. He is a member of the Advisory Council of the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition and was given the 2015 Best Non-Academic Award by the Social Policy Association.



[1] JSA will increase by 1.7% or £1.24 a week in April 2020. Our concern is therefore even greater because the DWP has not had regard  to any minimum income standards that can buy  a healthy diet, fuel and other necessities.


[3] This position is apparent from the report on medical research by Sir David Cooksey to the Treasury, December 2006. The Chairman of the House of Commons Committee for Science and Technology (Mr Phil Willis) in his opening questions refers to the neglect of prevention in the report and the emphasis on pharmaceuticals and continues “in fact this has been a fairly widespread criticism and you have also mentioned it earlier—it seems to refer mainly to pharmaceuticals and not, for instance, to preventative medicine or health technologies. Why do they get so much less attention in the report than pharmaceuticals? And is that a fair criticism?” Q8, Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence. Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19) Sir David Cooksey, 24 January 2007. Dr Evan Harris picks up this point later in the questions.