Impact on public health practice & policy

The impact of Universal Credit on health and wellbeing

Fuse research found that people moved onto Universal Credit are fighting to survive and are being forced into debt, rent arrears and extreme hardship, with serious consequences for their health and wellbeing.

The study focused on the experiences of vulnerable people and advice and support staff supporting them in North East England. It was commissioned by Gateshead Council, and led by Dr Mandy Cheetham (then Postdoctoral Research Associate with Fuse) and Fuse Associates Dr Suzanne Moffatt from Newcastle University and Dr Michelle Addison from Northumbria University.

The report which was published in BMJ Open (2019) found that the aims of Universal Credit, to simplify the benefits system and move people into work, are simply not being met.  Instead, people moving onto Universal Credit, who participated in the study including those with disabilities, health problems or complex lives, reported lengthy delays before receiving their first Universal Credit payment in full.  As well as this, once the payment is received, deductions for advance payments, historic overpayments and rent arrears are leaving people without enough money to eat or pay essential bills.

The research received national media coverage including exclusive coverage in the Guardian and Dr Cheetham met Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights when he visited the UK in November 2018.  The research was cited in the final report.  Mandy also gave evidence to the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International in person about the impact of the roll out of Universal Credit.

The researchers also submitted written evidence to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee about the impact of Universal Credit and have been involved in developing CREDIT, a Universal Credit theatre performance, in collaboration with Cap-a-Pie theatre company, drawing on the research, funded by Newcastle University, Arts Council England, The Catherine Cookson Foundation and Gateshead Council.

In June 2020, Dr Cheetham addressed the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee on the impact of Universal Credit and the problems that claimants experience during the wait for a first payment. The evidence given has been cited in a report calling on the Government to provide financial support to people waiting for their first Universal Credit payment. It recommends that starter payments should be made to ensure that everyone has enough money for basics such as food and heating.

Fuse Open Science blogs:

“Speaking truth to power is all we can do”

The long and winding (and emotional) road to impact

The toxic mix of Universal Credit, austerity and widening inequalities

Universally discredited?


Call for financial support during wait for first Universal Credit payment

Play based on research into the impact of the benefits system

Academic gives evidence about Universal Credit before Commons Select Committee

People moved onto Universal Credit are fighting to survive


Cheetham M, Moffatt S, Addison M, et al. Impact of Universal Credit in North East England: a qualitative study of claimants and support staff. BMJ Open 2019;9:e029611. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2019-029611

Research brief:

What is the impact of Universal Credit on health and wellbeing?

Last modified: Mon, 25 Jan 2021 13:17:03 GMT