Changing Realities

University of York

January 2023 - October 2023 

Changing Realities aims to create social policy change by enhancing and facilitating the engagement and influence of people with direct experience of hardship and social security in policy and parliamentary processes and in public and media debates on poverty.

Reports and Briefings

Terrified for this winter (October 2023)

This report, written in partnership with the Resolution Foundation (RF) and Child Poverty Action Group, includes new analysis showing that the flat rate cost-of-living payments made last year only increased two-child families’ income by 3.3%.

It also includes first-person accounts of the hardship facing many families this winter.

The key short-term recommendations include:  

  • uprating benefits in line with inflation next year
  • abolishing Benefit Cap and the Two-Child Limit.

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Employment support that works (July 2023)

Over 100 parents and carers call on the government to reform the benefits system to help people get into and on in work, by scrapping punitive measures and focusing on breaking down employment barriers.

The group is calling for an overhaul of the benefits system, to create employment support that works. They recommend:

  • Improving the adequacy of the social security system by increasing all benefits, removing the five-week wait for Universal Credit, and abolishing the two-child limit and the benefit cap.
  • Transforming Universal Credit to make it fit for purpose by exploring flexible assessment periods, incentivising people into work by expanding work allowances, and helping claimants with the costs of looking for work.
  • Removing the threat of sanctions and instead focusing on offering substantial support and mentorship
  • Providing a consistent case worker to establish a regular, reliable point of contact and provide personalised support with appropriate guidance and mentorship
  • Creating a statement of rights for claimants to rebalance the relationship between rights and responsibilities
  • Improving access to skills and training and taking individual skills and career goals into consideration

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Where’s the Credit? (May 2023)

Single Parents, Universal Credit and Mental Health.

Key recommendations for making Universal Credit work better for lone parents include:

  • End sanctioning for parents (when payments are garnished for failure to meet requirements such as a certain number of hours of job seeking)
  • More flexibility to support the mental health of claimants, similar to the Government-backed 'breathing space' scheme currently available to people experiencing debt. This could mean requirements such as job seeking and attending job centre appointments being temporarily suspended for people experiencing mental health issues. 

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Keeping warm this winter (January 2022)

Many of those on the lowest incomes have been hit hardest financially by the cost of living crisis. The project draws on the voices of those with direct experience of poverty and social security, engaging them in the changes that are needed. The work builds on the Covid Realities programme which explored the experiences of parents and carers on low incomes during the pandemic.

This briefing shares insight from participants about the hardship families are facing this winter, and the strategies they are forced to adopt in their effort to keep their children warm. These stories illustrate that policy responses are falling short of what many low-income families with dependent children need, so the briefing makes the following key policy recommendations, which have been developed with participants:

  • The government's approach of providing flat-rate support to households regardless of household size has left families with children struggling more than others. The government should recognise the additional costs of children by increasing Child Benefit to help people on the lowest incomes, as well as those on middle incomes who will also be struggling.
  • The £150 payment to recipients of certain disability benefits only offsets a fraction of their increased energy costs. The government should increase and expand the support provided for disabled people and those with a health condition by increasing the value of Personal Independence Payments and reducing the time it takes to process a new claim
  • Introduce a system for a social tariff for energy to be easily accessible to provide discounted energy costs to families on a low-incomes.

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Tiny family on coins