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DWP fails to test benefits delay that 'starves people into getting jobs'

Campaigners said it is "astonishing" that the government has not investigated what its policy is doing to vulnerable people across the UK

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The UK Government has been forced to reveal that it doesn’t know what the often-devastating five-week wait for Universal Credit does to people trapped in poverty.

In response to a Freedom of Information request by Glasgow-based charity the Poverty Alliance, the government was asked for any data collected on how the five-week wait affected poverty and food insecurity – and the DWP said it does not hold any such information.

Campaigners have long called for the five-week wait for a first Universal Credit payment to be scrapped, with thousands pushed further into arrears and often forced to choose between feeding their families and heating their homes as a result.

Poverty Alliance director Peter Kelly said it is “astonishing” that the DWP has not assessed the extent of the damage done by the policy which does well-documented damage to families in need.

Kelly said: “The five-week wait is driving destitution and distress. 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 foodbank 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.”

The delay to payments is one of a number of policies underpinning the benefits system that experts say mean people are worse-off than under the previous model, alongside the benefit freeze (set to end in April) and the two-child limit.

Mum-of-three Jackie in Glasgow had to take out a government loan to cover the five-week wait when she was switched to Universal Credit last year, forcing her into debt.

“For me it felt like we were being starved into getting a job,” she said. “It doesn’t work like that though.

“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.

“This is no way to get people into work, especially when the jobs the Jobcentre suggestions for you are so low-paid that you have very little prospect of coming off benefits or paying off benefits. All it does is demotivate, and plunge people into a spiral of despair and deterioration of mental health.”

Last week we reported that Universal Credit is driving people “into the arms of loan sharks” after debt charity StepChange revealed that more than half of their clients have gone without two or more basic essentials in the past month as a result of the system.

And last year national foodbank charity the Trussell Trust found that there was a 30 per cent increase in families heading to foodbanks after Universal Credit had been rolled out in an area for a year. After two years, this jumps to a 48 per cent increase.

A DWP spokesperson told the Daily Record: “We spend over £95bn a year on working age benefits and Universal Credit supports more than 2.8 million people across the UK. It gives people financial help if they’re unemployed, low-paid or unable to work.

“People can get paid urgently if they need it and we changed the system so people can receive even more money in the first two weeks than under the old system.”

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