Most people who lose their jobs will soon have to wait five weeks before they get any cash help, according to small print in the Universal Credit rules uncovered by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) as it launches a new campaign today (16 July), Saving Our Safety Net. A YouGov poll reports opposition of almost four to one to the five-week wait.
Currently most newly unemployed people have to wait two weeks they get their first benefit payment. But under new Universal Credit rules people will not be eligible for any help for a week and must then wait a further month for their benefits to be paid in arrears. This means that, other than the few who receive emergency help, any new claimants will have to wait at least five weeks for any cash.
In a new report: Universal Credit: the problem of delay in benefit payments published today, the TUC says that this new and deliberate delay to payments means that worries about money are likely to distract new claimants from looking for work, drive them into the hands of payday lenders and increase demand on food banks.
The new five-week wait will apply to anyone making a fresh claim for social security benefits, regardless of how long they have held their job or how much they have paid in National Insurance contributions.
Saving Our Safety Net launches today with a petition against the five-week wait. The campaign will highlight how government welfare reforms are undermining safety net protection for working people, which the TUC says is as much part of our welfare state as the NHS.
A TUC commissioned YouGov poll finds that the five-week wait is opposed by almost four to one (70 per cent to 18 per cent). Fewer than one in seven people (13 per cent) say they have heard of the proposal and more than half (52 per cent) say it makes them think less favourably of the government’s welfare reforms.
Seven out of 10 people (70 per cent) say that they would be worried when asked to imagine losing their job and not being entitled to receive any JSA for five weeks. Of those who said they would be worried, the top concerns were meeting rent or mortgage payments (69 per cent), buying food (52 per cent), and paying energy bills (23 per cent).
The poll also finds that opposition to the five week wait extends across the political spectrum. Potential Conservative voters oppose the policy by 55 per cent to 37 per cent, and potential UKIP voters were significantly more critical, opposing the policy by 71 per cent to 21 per cent.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “While it is right to deal with people who abuse the system, the government is now undermining the welfare safety net that any of us might need. Making people who have contributed all their lives – but who are simply unlucky enough to lose their jobs – wait five weeks before receiving any help is both cruel and vindictive. Just as with the bedroom tax, it shows that ministers are desperately out of touch with the lives of ordinary people, many of whom do not have any savings to fall back on.
“People who lose their jobs need to be concentrating on looking for a new one, not worrying about whether they have enough money to pay the mortgage, keep up with their rent or feed their children.
“We already know that Universal Credit is way over budget and in the intensive care ward. The five-week wait is yet another ill-thought out idea and should be enough to send the whole policy back to the drawing board. It’s a policy designed to benefit Wonga, not the British people.
“It’s not surprising so few people know about the five week wait when the government has kept it under wraps. We are launching the Saving Our Safety Net campaign to expose government welfare plans for what they are – undermining the National Insurance safety net to which nearly everyone at work contributes.”
* The TUC report Universal Credit: the problem of delay in benefit payments can be found at https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/BenefitsDelayed2014.pdf