Many of my constituents have been in touch recently over waiting times for Universal Credit. I agree that the handling of this issue by the Government is unacceptable and is of great concern to many people in Lewisham Deptford.
As you will know, it currently takes five to six weeks for claimants to receive their first payment after applying for Universal Credit. The Government considers this waiting and assessment period as fundamental to its policy, designed to mirror the world of work and prevent welfare dependency. However, clearly, the design and management of the Universal Credit system is flawed and is having a disastrous impact.
I understand that waiting times are proving incredibly frustrating and problematic for people in practical terms. Figures from the Government itself show that nearly half of new Universal Credit claimants required an advance on their payment and nearly a quarter did not even receive their first payment in full and on time. Furthermore, they show that 49% of claimants in arrears said they fell behind in their payments after making their claim, highlighting waiting time as a key reason.
The disastrous terms of the Government’s implantation of Universal Credit is proving counterproductive to its purpose by causing further problems. As stated by Citizens Advice, over half of those helped onto Universal Credit were forced to borrow money while waiting for their first payment. Advances available to those in need must also be paid back. I believe it is unacceptable for people to be unfairly pushed into additional debts in this way.
The Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest foodbank network, has said that the waiting time is responsible for a rise in the demand for charity food. Our Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary has condemned the “shambolic roll-out” of Universal Credit which is “pushing so many families into poverty”. Even some Government MPs have argued that the roll-out of Universal Credit must be halted, in order to stop the distress caused by the Government’s mishandling of this programme.
At the June 2017 General Election, I stood on a manifesto that committed to reforming and redesigning Universal Credit. I remain committed to calling for action on this issue and pressuring the Government to end the six week wait.