Automating universal credit: A case of temporal governance
In this paper we study the dimension of time in social security, namely, the requirement of claimants to adopt a particular temporality in return for entitlements. We focus on the temporal rules and mandates of Universal Credit (UC), a unified benefit in the United Kingdom that delivers payment to claimants through a dynamic, automated means-testing system. UC imposes temporality through a monthly assessment period, a unit of time that UC has made infrastructural through an automated payment system. From our empirical study, we offer two sets of examples of how UC’s particular temporality shapes claimant experience of the benefit. In these cases, the monthly assessment period conflicts with other temporalities that claimants must contend with — those set by employers through their employer payment cycle, in one, and the timeframes dictated by childcare providers and the practical needs of people with young children in the other. In both cases, a temporal mismatch leads to a loss of entitlement, a phenomenon we call temporal punitiveness.
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