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The Saving Our Safety Net campaign - and the DWP’s response….

From Richard Exell and the TUC:

The Saving Our Safety Net campaign is up and running - foregrounding our call to stop the five week wait, complete with petition and everything.

And I’d like to give an extra plug to Carl Packman’s brilliant report, Universal Credit: the problem of delay in benefit payments, with all the evidence about the harm that benefit delay is already causing.

In case you haven’t got time to read my post about the five week wait, here’s the potted version. Under Universal Credit, from next April:

There is a system of advance payments but these advances are usually for less than your full entitlement, are rather complicated (if you don’t believe me, have a look at the rules for advance payments for existing benefits) and will only be paid if the DWP is satisfied that you will be able to pay them back.

The Child Poverty Action Group, among others, has reported that there are serious problems with advance payments for existing benefits, most seriously that people have not been told that they exist by the Jobcentre or have wrongly been told they do not qualify (indeed, CPAG have said that advances are “barely being used”).

We also hear on the grapevine that more and more advice agencies are coming across examples of people clearly in need being turned down for advances.

And on top of this, the government is introducing a period of seven ‘waiting days’ for Universal Credit. The benefit delay is a period when you do qualify for UC, but you have to wait for the money. You’ll never be paid for the waiting days, however long you wait. The government still hasn’t decided whether these waiting days will be part of the assessment month – if not, the delay will be over six weeks, not five.

So, the government has seen our reports, what’s their response?

A DWP spokesman says:

Universal Credit is a vital reform that will simplify the benefits system and make work pay.

The seven day waiting period for benefits is not limited to Universal Credit but will apply to out-of-work benefits under the current system too. People can apply for an advanced benefit payment if needed

Paying benefits monthly is an important part of Universal Credit because it replicates the world of work and makes the transition to employment much smoother. We have matched this with increased budgeting support

And that’s it.

It looks as though the DWP response is going to be that if people have problems as a result of the wait it’s because they’re no good at budgeting. I know it’s easy to say that ministers are out of touch – but how many people can cope with no money coming in for five or six weeks? Having difficulty in these circumstances isn’t about bad money management; it’s about simply not having sufficient resources. (I’d urge you to have a look at Carl’s report, he’s really good on this point.)

A wait this long isn’t about replicating the world of work (most workers don’t have to wait five or six weeks for their pay), it’s about punishing people for daring to claim the benefits they’ve been paying for all the time they’ve been in work.

As for there being this wait for existing benefits – well, d’oh! Only because the DWP are changing the rules from October for those existing benefits! The whole point of which is to align those existing benefits with Universal Credit; and, while we’re at it, let’s note that the DWP has admitted that the change in October will mean that, in 2015/16, 245,000 JSA and 35,000 ESA claimants will be “most at risk of suffering financial hardship” and the average loss for a claimant will be £40 for JSA claimants and £50 for ESA claimants.

That may not sound like much to ministers, but to most workers who’ve just lost their jobs it’s going to be serious money.

This out of touch response is the clearest indication yet why Saving Our Safety Net is a priority.

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