Blog: Five weeks is too long

It’s important to remember – when our government so often claims that there isn’t enough money to provide decent public services – that we live in the sixth richest country in the world. Yet under that same government, a million people are reliant on foodbanks.

That’s a national disgrace.

In the 12 months to 31 March 2018 the Trussell Trust’s foodbank network distributed 1,332,952 three day emergency food supplies to people in crisis – a massive 13% increase on the previous year. To put that into perspective, that’s equivalent to a food parcel for every single UNISON member.

Of course austerity is a root cause of this – which is why our union has spent a decade opposing it – but another factor is the five week wait for Universal Credit.

Everyone who applies for Universal Credit has to wait at least five weeks for their first payment – with no exceptions. Official figures show that 9 out every 100 still get nothing after 5 weeks and that 14 out of every 100 claims are not paid the full amount on time. That means that in the 12 months to November 2018 138,000 people went on to Universal Credit and did not receive a penny five weeks after they claimed. It also means that 232,000 people didn’t get the full amount of Universal Credit, five weeks after making their claim.

That’s leaving many people without enough money to cover the basics, forcing them to rely on food banks and other forms of emergency support. This is an utterly inhumane and indefensible approach that scars lives and communities alike. That’s why we’re throwing our support behind the Trussell Trust’s campaign to end the five week wait for Universal Credit – #5weekstoolong.

The solution is simple. The DWP already estimate how much someone will get in the first month under Universal Credit, yet they then make that payment a loan, placing recipients in debt. Instead, they should make the first Universal Credit payment within the first two weeks of the claim being made. Doing so would cut down on the need for foodbanks, avoid the risk of homelessness and provide a vital safety net for those being put onto Universal Credit.

As I’ve said before, Universal Credit is beset with design flaws. Whether it’s the lack of or level of work allowances for some people, the five week wait, deductions, the two child limit, the pay date effect, undermining women’s financial independence- the list seems endless. Whilst some are better off under Universal Credit, others are worse off – it has become a toxic brand.

And every day, the issues become more urgent. 1.6 million people are now on Universal Credit and that figure is expected to rise to 3 million by the end of the year. Major improvement is both urgent and essential if further untold damage is to be avoided – not least to the 1.4 million people expected to migrate ‘naturally’ this year without transitional protection (either because of a change of circumstances or because they’ve lost their job).

It’s difficult to see how Universal Credit can continue to deliver anything but misery for many. It’s difficult to see how any government – even this one – can justify ploughing on regardless in the face of such overwhelming evidence. The government needs to end the five week wait – but they also need to think again about Universal Credit, full stop, before any more damage is done.

You can support the #5weekstoolong campaign by visiting the website and signing up here.