More than two million claims for welfare support have been submitted during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, according to Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) secretary Thérèse Coffey.
Coffey said her department has received more than 1.8 million claims to its controversial flagship welfare programme – Universal Credit (UC), more than 250,000 claims for Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), and 20,000 claims for Employment Support Allowance (ESA). She said this is six times the volume the Department for Work and Pensions would typically experience, with the rate for UC claims appearing to have “stabilised” at between 20,000 and 25,000 per day – double the rate of a standard pre-coronavirus week.
But Coffey insisted she has no intention of changing the “fundamental principles or application” of UC and dismissed Labour calls to end the five-week wait for a first payment or to scrap the two-child limit.
She also told MPs it is “far more straightforward and quick” to change UC and working tax credits in response to the pandemic compared with legacy benefits such as JSA and ESA.
Giving an update in the Commons, Coffey said:
We’ve also issued almost 700,000 advances to claimants who felt that they could not wait for their routine payment and the vast majority of these claimants received money within 72 hours.
She added that 58,200 vacancies are advertised on a new website.
‘Discrimination’, ‘bureaucracy’ and foodbanks
For Labour, shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds asked why legacy benefits have not been increased in a similar way to UC. He also noted that more than 100 charities have pointed out that this “discriminates against disabled people in particular”.
He highlighted calls to temporarily suspend the benefit cap and said the two-child limit should be lifted, adding: “People three years ago could not have been expected to make family choices based on the likelihood of a global pandemic shutting down our economy.
“The Government has suspended sanctions during the crisis but the two-child limit is effectively an 18-year sanction on the third and fourth child in a family and surely it should go too.”
Reynolds also said the five-week wait for the first payment of Universal Credit “should not exist at all”.
On the five-week wait, Coffey said: “There’s no intention to change that.” She also highlighted other changes which she claimed could help people, including mortgage holidays and stopping renters being evicted.
SNP work and pensions spokesman Neil Gray, meanwhile, described the government’s support schemes as “bureaucratic”, adding: “Millions have been forced on to a still inadequate UC.”
He said Airdrie foodbank had reported a 47% increase in demand for its services since the onset of the pandemic, adding: “That should focus minds.”
Coffey said she was “conscious of the increase in food bank usage”.
Labour chairman of the work and pensions committee Stephen Timms said it was “unfair” that JSA and ESA had not been increased as well.
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