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The rollout of Universal Credit has been linked to a rise in crime by an academic study.

Researchers at University College London said they found “salient and plausible evidence linking UC to an increase in recorded crime”.

They said the rise was both short- and long-term as the benefit was introduced to an area, and included both violent crime and property crime.

That suggests “the effects of strain extend beyond the purely financial,” the study said.

Academics compared monthly government data to figures from Community Safety Partnerships in England and Wales from January 2013 to June 2018.

That meant the study covered the early rollout of the benefit, which was plagued by complaints people were driven to food banks due to its low rates.

Researchers at University College London said they found “salient and plausible evidence linking UC to an increase in recorded crime” ( In Pictures via Getty Images)

Tory ministers – who cut billions out of UC’s design under austerity – have since made repeated announcements making Universal Credit more generous again.

The study in the British Journal of Criminology admitted it was “impossible to comprehensively prove causation from a single, observational study”.

Authors said the benefit claimants themselves may not be responsible for the rise in crime, but argued the effects may “ripple out through families and social networks”.

They suggested UC might also make benefit claimants more likely to report crimes they’ve fallen victim to, to ensure they can claim on insurance.

The study also “relies on police recorded crime figures, which are inevitably problematic”.

But the study concluded: “Despite these limitations, this paper presents robust, preliminary evidence that the introduction of UC is correlated with increased crime rates, a finding with significant theoretical and policy implications.”

Author Dr Matteo Tiratelli, of UCL’s Social Research Institute, told The Independent: “You can see it: when particular places institute Universal Credit, the change happens afterwards.

“And the length of time that different places have been under the Universal Credit system, those places have seen higher crime rates than others.”

“The effects seem to be quite broad: it’s not just about survival crime where people are pushed to breaking point because of poverty and they resort to property crime to supplement their income.

“It also seems to be the strain, stress in general this big restriction on how generous the social security system is has led to people becoming stressed in all different areas of their life.”

A Government spokesperson said: “There is no evidence Universal Credit causes crime.

“The report’s authors themselves acknowledge it is impossible to prove the cause of criminal behaviour from a single, observational study. “Universal Credit provides a strong financial safety net: it is more generous overall than the old system and makes it easier for people to claim support they are entitled to.”

The Universal Credit rollout has been ongoing since 2013 and finishes at the end of 2024. Millions of legacy benefit claimants will soon be moved onto the new system.

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