Campaigners demand end to five week benefits wait


Families being forced into destitution 

27th January 2020 by Robert Armour 0 Comments

Campaigners have renewed calls to end the damaging five-week wait for first payments of Universal Credit.

It comes after a freedom of information (FOI) request by the Poverty Alliance revealed there is no UK government analysis of the impact of the policy on poverty and destitution.  

The news follows a report last week from the Resolution Foundation which added to mounting evidence that families are unable to cover their essential costs while they wait for their first payment.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimate that two in five families on Universal Credit cannot meet their basic living costs during the five-week wait while research by the Trussell Trust has shown that in areas where Universal Credit has been rolled out for at least a year, food banks have seen a 30% increase in demand.

A broad spectrum of civil society has called for the wait to be abolished including health organisations, mental health charities, food banks, homelessness groups and women’s organisations.

Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance said: “The five-week wait is driving destitution and distress. It has pulled countless people into poverty and trapped many more who were already struggling. We hear time and time again that the policy is pushing some people into rent arrears while others are going hungry to avoid getting into debt.

“It is astonishing that almost a year after then work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd admitted that delays in accessing Universal Credit could have been responsible for rising food bank use that the UK government is still not assessing the impact of the wait on the staggering levels of poverty in this country.  

“We urgently need to end the wait and increase the level of payments to meet people’s needs. The current policy has no place in a decent society.”

Jackie, a mum of three from Glasgow, was forced to take out a government loan for five weeks when she was moved onto Universal Credit last year:

"For me it felt like we were being starved into getting a job. It doesn't work like that though.  No human can effectively look for work when their mind is consumed with how to feed their kids and keep them warm.

“Poverty is stressful enough but the five week wait for Universal Credit is tipping people into crisis. I was already struggling to make ends meet with just enough to put food on the table and make sure immediate bills were paid. The house has been in a bad state for years and we can’t afford a lot of the basic securities you want when you’re raising a family on a low income like contents insurance and life insurance. 

Garry Lemon, Director of Policy at the Trussell Trust, added: “Universal Credit should be there to anchor any of us against the tides of poverty.  But the five week wait fatally undermines this principle, pushing people into debt, homelessness and destitution. 

“In a society that believes in justice and compassion, this isn’t right. But it is something that can be fixed. Universal Credit was designed to have a five week wait. Now it’s clear that is five weeks too long, we must change that design. The Conservative Party manifesto pledged to 'do more to make sure that Universal Credit works for the most vulnerable'. With a new government in place, it is time for them to outline who the ‘most vulnerable’ are, and what steps will be taken to protect them. The first priority must be to end the five week wait.”