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A new Human Rights Watch report has released a stinging attack on Universal Credit, calling it a “poorly designed algorithm”.
In what is described as the Government’s “rigid insistence” over the welfare reform, the HRW say that a new system is needed to “restore people’s rights to a decent standard of living”.
The report says that Universal Credit is “causing people to go hungry, fall into debt, and experience psychological distress”.
HRW say the means-testing algorithm is “flawed” and ignores important factors such as how frequently people are paid, leading to sometimes people being docked vital benefits.
The organisation says that the government “has not acted” over proposed changes to make the system fairer, including shorter periods of income assessment or using averaged earnings over a longer period.
While the government evaluates proposals to fix the algorithm, it should implement urgently needed measures such as one-off grants to help people during their five-week wait, Human Rights Watch said.
The report also criticises the five week wait, saying that claimants are forced into “skimping on their basic needs”, when before they would get a payment within two weeks.
Despite some good progress on digital claiming, HRW say the predominantly digital strategic causes “hardship” amongst those who lack the skills and cannot afford reliable internet.
Amos Toh, senior artificial intelligence and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “The government has put a flawed algorithm in charge of deciding how much money to give people to pay rent and feed their families.
“The government’s bid to automate the benefits system – no matter the human cost – is pushing people to the brink of poverty.”
Toh added: “Making sure the benefits system protects people’s rights is ultimately a job for humans, not an algorithm.
“Benefits are designed to help people, not kick them when they’re down. A human-centered approach to benefits automation will ensure the UK government is helping the people who need it most.”