Libraries anticipate high impact on services from introduction of Universal Credit
Public libraries predict significant increases in demands on staff time and public access computers following Universal Credit roll out, according to new findings from lorensbergs, the market leader in PC booking and session management software. While at pilot stage in only a few library authorities, the implications of Universal Credit are yet to be fully realised. Once roll out is complete, it will involve an estimated 8 million people claiming six means-tested benefits and tax credits. According to lorensbergs’ public library authority research, the impact on library resources and services is expected to be extensive.
98% of public libraries expect greater demands on PC sessions, and 85% expect a need for more query handling and support from library staff. This impact on services is predicted following libraries’ experience from the launch of Universal Jobmatch which has led to increased footfall and PC use in libraries from jobseekers. 60% of libraries are planning to organise staff training on Universal Credit, and 25% anticipate a need to recruit more volunteers. With all claimants’ applications for Universal Credit and account management required to take place online, librarian and volunteer support will be needed to help claimants use the internet, create email accounts, and in some cases help complete the application forms.
At a time when there has been a need for libraries to reduce opening hours and paid staff in response to funding cuts, this greater demand for library PC sessions and staff assistance is likely to produce a further squeeze on resources. It may also cause difficulties for the Government’s programme of welfare reform, with Universal Credit being characterised as a government service that requires extensive assisted digital support. Of the expected 8 million claimants, a significantly high number of people will be inexperienced in using the internet or computers. Many libraries are planning to increase the number or length of PC sessions available to claimants, or dedicate PCs for Universal Credit applications. In order to achieve this, libraries will often need PC upgrades and additional machines, especially if PC availability is to be maintained for other uses. While libraries are experienced in assisting the digitally excluded and welcome the increase in footfall, there is a call for more library support, guidance and availability of funds to help meet the challenges that this welfare reform creates.
lorensbergs' research is available in our white paper.