Say no to the five-week wait for help after losing your job
Today the TUC launches our Saving Our Safety Net campaign with a demand that the government withdraws plans to make people receiving the new Universal Credit wait for more than five weeks before they get their first cash. We are seriously worried that thousands of unemployed workers face hardship and debt and that many will turn in desperation to payday lenders. Our research shows that hardly anyone has heard of this change, and when they learn about it they are overwhelmingly opposed.
Saving Our Safety Net is a campaign we will run through the coming months, highlighting the government’s welfare reforms that take away the safety net workers have been paying for through taxes and National Insurance Contributions. We’ll also be highlighting the cuts that take away benefits and tax credits that help workers and their families survive the misery of low pay.
Saving Our Safety Net is based on research into what workers believe about the benefit system and the ways they think it should change. This research has found that, although there is widespread concern that it can be too easy to abuse the social security system, workers still support the principle of paying in from their wages to make sure there is a safety net if they fall on hard times through no fault of their own. They still want a system that covers the sort of situations the benefit system was set up to deal with, like maternity, retirement, redundancy, accident or sickness. People quickly become angry when they suspect that the government is undermining this system.
And our research has found that a prime example of this undermining is the five week wait for your first money that will face most Universal Credit claimants from next April. If you lose your job and need to claim Universal Credit, this is what will happen:
- For a calendar month (that is, somewhat more than four weeks) the amount of benefit you’re entitled to will be assessed.
- For a further week you wait while they arrange payment.
- Finally, after a wait of more than five weeks, you get your Universal Credit, paid in arrears.
There will be a system of ‘advance payments’ but the criteria will be drawn tightly; the vast majority of people on UC won’t qualify. (One reason for being turned down, for instance, will be that your family has debts that might make it hard for you to repay the advance!)
The government is also introducing a period of seven ‘waiting days’ – a week when you won’t have any entitlement to Universal Credit at all. They haven’t yet decided whether these waiting days will be part of the assessment period or in addition to it. If they’re in addition, the wait will be over six weeks, not five.
The normal wait for a worker who has lost their job at present is two weeks. Even under the current system, administrative problems can cause longer waits. Today we are publishing Universal Credit: Solving the problem of delay in benefit payments by Carl Packman, which looks at the terrible problems these delays already cause. Thousands of workers who have lost their jobs are already forced to turn to payday lenders to get by while they wait for their benefits. As Carl notes, the design of Universal Credit will multiply the number of families in this position.
That’s why the first action on Saving Our Safety Net is a petition calling on Iain Duncan Smith to end the five week wait. We are making two key demands: the government should withdraw the seven waiting days and claimants should have a right to be paid on a fortnightly basis if that is what they want. Our opinion research has found that fewer than one in seven people (13 per cent) say they have heard of the proposal, but when they do learn about it, they are opposed: 70 per cent to 18 per cent. Seventy per cent say that they would be worried when asked to imagine losing their job and not being entitled to receive any JSA for 5 weeks.
Over the coming months we’ll be turning the spotlight on other holes being opened up in the safety net, including the cuts in disability benefits and help for low-paid workers. We want as many people as possible to understand that the government’s cuts aren’t about hitting people behaving unreasonably, but about taking away workers’ rights and hitting hard-pressed people doing their best to get by.
Saving Our Safety Net is a new campaign from the TUC that aims to defend a decent welfare system that provides help to those who need it, when they need it. You can find out more at the www.savingoursafetynet.org