Theresa May under pressure as influential committee tells her to cut Universal Credit waiting time

Daily Mirror - 26 Oct 2017

Theresa May urged to cut the 'cruel' waiting time for Universal Credit by influential committee as pressure piles on the PM to tackle this controversial issue.

It comes on the back of calls from the architect of the policy Iain Duncan Smith who waded into the debate at the weekend.

Mrs May also faced a tough grilling at Prime Minister's Questions on the topic for the third week in a row.

While an opposition day debate organised by Labour exposed some of the cruelest cases of families being made homeless and the pressures on food banks because of the policy.

The cross-party Work and Pensions Select Committee said the six-week wait before claimants receive their first payment was causing "acute financial difficulty".

They said cutting the waiting time would remove a "major obstacle" to the success of the policy.

Committee chairman Frank Field said the waiting period for the first payment was "cruel".

"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," the Labour MP said.

While Conservative committee member Heidi Allen who has been an outspoken critic of the waiting period said: "Despite the clear support for universal credit, there is cross-party recognition that the six-week wait does not honour the original intentions of the system.

"To truly represent the world of work, the payment cycle must mirror how the majority of people are paid i.e. monthly."

Mrs May defended the UC programme at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday under pressure from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn .

She acknowledged that people had raised concerns with UC and stressed "we have been listening to those and changes have been made".

But she refused to cut the waiting time which has been described

Some 8% of current benefits claimants are on UC, which will increase to 10% by the end of January with the roll-out due to be completed by 2022.

The programme is aimed at replacing six different benefits with a single payment, making the system simpler to understand and administer.

The money is paid in arrears designed to mimic the way that many salaries are paid.

But the six-week wait before the first payment is pushing claimants into debt and rent arrears.

And the committee have pointed out that no employed person would have to wait six weeks for their first paycheque.

The MPs said that it was wrong to expect claimants to have savings they could use to plug the gap.

Noting that: "Most low income families simply do not have the savings to see them through such an extended period."

The committee said that advance payments, loans typically repayable over six months via deductions from UC, could "mitigate some of the unwelcome consequences of the current design of Universal Credit, but they do not address their underlying foundations

This six week wait was at the core of many problems highlighted in evidence.

The report concluded: "Universal Credit seeks to mirror the world of work, but no one in work waits six weeks for a monthly paycheque.

"We recommend the Government aims to reduce the standard waiting time for a first Universal Credit payment to one month."

Nicola Bartlett, Daily Mirror