The five-week wait for Universal Credit is pushing Lewisham East residents into poverty.
When the Government rolled out Universal Credit, it promised a streamlined benefits system that would help combat poverty and make work pay.
Instead we have seen it is pushing people who are already vulnerable into poverty. The system is beset with problems, but the most serious is the five-week wait claimants face before receiving any funds.
Those trying to claim the benefit are often already in financial difficulty and don’t have enough to cover the basics.
This puts them on the slippery slope of poverty which soon spreads to all aspects of their lives.
People find themselves homeless, in hospital and worse. The five-week wait is pushing vulnerable people into poverty and must be scrapped.
The Trussell Trust has drawn a link between the introduction of Universal Credit and a rise in food bank usage and this is born out in parts of our community too.
Here in Lewisham, Universal Credit rolled out in July 2018 and a local food bank has seen a 20 per cent rise in usage over this period.
Last month, I visited the Jericho Road Project in Catford, which provides supported housing to rough sleepers, the homeless, ex-offenders, those coming out of substance abuse rehab and those with mental illnesses.
Since the introduction of Universal Credit they have had to put in place specific resource to help their clients navigate the complex system.
This offers a crucial lifeline to those being supported by the project. But not everyone has access to this, and no one should needed a dedicated support worker just to access the benefits system.
I spoke to one constituent who had recently gone through the application process. He works nights at a security job on a zero hours contract and travels two hours each way by bus to get to work. He has asked to work full time but has been told extra hours are not available.
There was a problem with his online application and the Department for Work and Pensions asked him to close and reopen his claim.
This effectively restarted the whole process, and the five-week wait, meaning he could face a wait of more than 10 weeks without any funds.
Variations on this story were common, with one constituent telling me “work just doesn’t pay”.
The recent introduction of ‘advances’ for claimants does not solve the problem. While this measure does mean claimants have access to funds immediately, they must repay this over a 12-month period, meaning this is only delays the financial pressures they face.
Former Work and Pensions Minister Amber Rudd has said that the five-week wait is meant to mirror the experience of a new job. But no one in the working world waits five weeks to be paid, and many claimants are making their application an already difficult time.
The people I met don’t want to be on benefits. They want to be in full time work and see Universal Credit as a temporary support while they find a way to make their own contribution to society.
But a five-week wait without any funds risks pushing claimants into a poverty trap, making them reliant on the system for longer.
I am urging the Government to scrap it and look forward to wider reforms to the system that Labour can deliver in power.
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