Six-week wait for benefits under Universal Credit shake-up will cause 'Christmas disaster'
Sky News - 26 Oct 2017
The UK is heading for a "Christmas disaster" if the Government does not back down over the six-week wait included in its flagship benefit reforms, MPs from all parties have warned.
The Work and Pensions Committee has issued an urgent report calling for ministers to cut the waiting time for claimants to receive their first Universal Credit payments.
Branding it a "major obstacle blocking the potential success of the policy", the cross-party group said there was evidence the delay led to "an increase in acute financial difficulty".
They cited reports of overwhelmed food banks, problem debt, steeply rising rent arrears and homelessness as reasons for cutting the wait period to a month for first payments.
"Most low-income families simply do not have the savings to see them through this extended period without resorting to desperate measures," the committee's report stated.
The committee welcomed the increased availability of advance payment loans but said they were "no solution to a fundamental flaw" in the design of Universal Credit.
The call will heap further pressure on Theresa May over the full roll-out of Universal Credit, which is aimed at simplifying the benefits system by replacing six different benefits with a single payment.
The committee's chair, Labour MP Frank Field, branded the six-week wait for payments "cruel", adding: "No one can give us any real justification for it.
"Such a long wait bears no relation to anyone's working life and the terrible hardship it has been proven to cause actually makes it more difficult for people to find work.
"It is not too late for the Government to avert a Christmas disaster. They must act now."
Last week, a non-binding Labour motion calling for the Universal Credit roll-out to be paused was passed in the House of Commons, with Tory MPs ordered to skip the vote.
Heidi Allen, one of six Conservatives on the committee, said: "To truly represent the world of work, the payment cycle must mirror how the majority of people are paid, i.e. monthly."
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister assured MPs the Government "have been listening" to concerns raised over Universal Credit and that "changes have been made".
Responding to the committee's report, the Department for Work and Pensions highlighted how help is available for those who need it within the six-week period.
A spokesperson said: "The vast majority of claimants are paid in full and on time but no one who needs support has to wait six weeks.
"When people apply for Universal Credit they are advised about the maximum advance they can receive, and that they can repay over six months.
"Once we know someone needs an advance, they can get it within five days or on the same day if they are in urgent need."
Currently, 8% of benefits claimants are on Universal Credit, with this planned to rise to 10% by the end of January as the Government aims to complete the full roll-out by 2022.