Paul Morrison explains why the Universal Credit announcements are not what they seem.
Families applying for Universal Credit must wait 6 weeks for their first payment. This is causing huge problems. Families are building up rent arrears, debts and needing help from foodbanks as they wait for their money. David Gauke MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has said today that he would address these problems by speeding up Advance Payments – which sounds much better than it actually is.
An Advance Payment is 2 weeks’ money loaned to the family and repaid usually over the next six months. This loan of 2 weeks’ money is all that is on offer for the first 6 weeks. Universal Credit covers rent, heat, food and most other living expenses.
Last week I was helping a person through the Universal Credit process. I was helping her get a bank account to pay it into, as many banks are obstructive when people who are not likely to deposit a large monthly pay cheque try to open an account The question I have for Mr Gawke is when she gets her 2 weeks Advance Payment money which must last her family six weeks – should she pay 4 weeks rent or spend the money feeding her children for the next 6 weeks?
Announcement inadequate and long overdue
David Gauke’s announcement at this time is particularly frustrating. In 2015 Sue Royston of CAB produced comprehensive evidence of the problems caused by the 6-week wait. I and many, many others have raised the issue with regional DWP managers. The response has always been, there is no problem. Advance Payments are on offer.
Despite these assurances Advance Payments were not being given out at the rate they should have been. People weren’t told about them, people didn’t know about them, people had to provide huge amounts of evidence to demonstrate they needed them.
Now David Gauke has given a further set of assurances. I hope they lead to action but that should not distract us for one minute from the fact that offering to loan families 2 weeks’ money to pay for 6-weeks worth of food, heat and rent is now a well-proven recipe for rent arrears, debt and foodbank use.
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