The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has come under renewed pressure to scrap the minimum five-week wait for Universal Credit after a Tory welfare minister admitted the Government ‘didn’t really consider’ the measure.
The welfare delivery minister Will Quince MP was challenged over why the DWP hasn’t scrapped the five-week wait or turned advance payments into grants, which opposition MPs claim would help to protect families affected by the Coronavirus outbreak, during a Work and Pensions Select Committee meeting on Thursday.
Quince told MPs that due to administrative costs of introducing the changes “it wasn’t even really considered as an option” and that the structure of the Universal Credit system is unlikely to change during the crisis.
He said: “Even if we were able to secure the £2.2bn a year that would be required to do that, it is not operationally deliverable.
“And that is the biggest reason, amongst many, many others, why it wasn’t even really considered as an option.
“We looked at the way of what can we operationally deliver, what can we get over the line, and how can we get money to the most vulnerable people in our society.”
In addition, Neil Couling, Director General of Change Group within the DWP, admitted in the meeting that lifting the benefits cap would not be “the most difficult thing to do” despite previous UK government claims it would be “operationally challenging”.
An estimated 1.5 million households made a fresh claim for Universal Credit over a six-week period leading up to 12 April, and around 560,000 people have asked for an advance payment since 16 March.
Labour MP Neil Coyle said the advance payment system has pushed some claimants into prostitution and has led to “homelessness and even premature deaths of some of the people who will be forced into destitution as a result of not being able to pay back this money.”
Labour MP Stephen McCabe suggested that the DWP should consider suspending repayments until after the Covid-19 crisis.
Commenting on the DWPs reluctance to scrap the five-week wait, SNP Fair Work Spokesperson Chris Stephens MP said: “It is shocking that the Tory government didn’t even consider scrapping the five-week wait for Universal Credit – and has instead deliberately chosen to leave thousands of people without the financial support they need.
“This callous Tory policy is needlessly pushing people into hardship – and has left many households waiting for weeks or months before they can get support.
“The UK government must now scrap the five-week wait, turn the loans already given into emergency grants, and ensure all new claims are given automatic grants – to prevent millions from being plunged into debt and poverty.
“The Chancellor previously claimed he would do whatever it takes to help people affected by the coronavirus crisis – so now the UK government must follow through on that commitment and strengthen welfare protections so people get the help they need.
“If the UK government had listened to our calls to introduce a Universal Basic Income at the start of this crisis, the huge difficulties people are now facing could have been avoided.
He added: “For a decade Tory austerity and welfare policies have been removing the safety net that we may all need at some point in our lives. It is vital the Tories now reverse damaging cuts like the benefits cap and urgently put support back in place if we are going to help people through this crisis.”