The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing yet another investigation into Universal Credit. It comes as a storm around one of its most contentious aspects grows. The committee looking into the benefit wants to hear claimants’ stories. So, now’s your chance to have your say.
The DWP: yet another investigation
The Work and Pensions Committee is a cross-party group which looks into DWP-related issues. It has only just restarted after the general election, when select committees get disbanded. And already, the committee is on Universal Credit’s case.
As the Work and Pensions Committee tweeted:
📢Today we’re launching our first inquiry: Universal Credit and the wait for a first payment.
Have you had to wait for your #UniversalCredit? Do you work to support people claiming UC?
— Work & Pensions Committee (@CommonsWorkPen) March 9, 2020
Universal Credit makes claimants wait five weeks for their first payment. But people have been increasingly critical of this built-in clause. And when you look at the evidence, it’s easy to see why:
- Foodbank charity the Trussell Trust reported a 52% increase in food bank use in areas where Universal Credit had been live for a year. And it links some of this increase to the five-week wait.
- Shelter thinks that the five-week wait is contributing to people falling into “extreme hardship and pushing people towards debt, rent arrears and ultimately homelessness”.
- The Canary exclusively revealed that since July 2017 there’s been a 35% increase in new claimants having to ask the DWP for advances because of the five-week wait. Advances are payments the DWP gives claimants if they don’t have enough money to cover life’s basics until it pays them Universal Credit for the first time.
- We also reported that as of May 2019, the value of DWP advances had rocketed by 28.9% in just three months. And we also found that the percentage of all Universal Credit claimants paying back more than 20% of their standard allowance in advances or deductions had also increased.
- Moreover, The Canary revealed that the DWP had never assessed the impact of a five-week wait on claimants. Nor has the DWP looked into if the five-week wait causes things like poverty, rent arrears, or homelessness.
On top of this, the DWP already had evidence that Universal Credit was causing financial problems for claimants. Its survey in 2017 found that only 25% of claimants said they were “keeping up with bills… without any difficulties”. In total, 72% either struggled from “time to time”, struggled constantly, fell behind, or were having “real financial difficulties”.
So, there must be countless people that the five-week wait hits hard. Therefore, the Work and Pensions Select Committee wants to hear from them. As it noted, it wants to know:
- How have things like advance payments “helped to reduce the negative impact of the five week wait”?
- “What problems do claimants still experience during the five week wait?”
- “What is the best way of offsetting the impact of the five week wait?”
- “Are different… options needed for different groups of claimants?”
While the committee’s investigation follows a growing line of investigations, it’s different. MPs like its chair Stephen Timms and fellow Labour MP Debbie Abrahams have been strong advocates for sick and disabled people and those on social security. So, this inquiry may well be more claimant-led than others. But ultimately, any platform that gives people’s real-life experiences of the DWP a voice surely must be a good thing.
Featured image via Disabled People Against Cuts / Wikimedia – UK Government
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