New benefit rules forcing claimants to wait at least five weeks before they receive any cash will increase demand on food banks, says the TUC.
Under current rules new claimants have to wait an average of two weeks before they receive their first benefit payment. But with the introduction of Universal Credit new claimants will not be eligible for any financial support during the first week of their claim, and will then have to wait a further month before any benefits are paid.
The warning comes in response to a cross-party inquiry into hunger and child poverty, which found that delays in benefit payments is one of primary reasons for soaring numbers of food bank users.
In the last year the food bank charity Trussell Trust helped more than 900,000 people with three-days worth of emergency food aid, with some experts suggesting the true extent of food poverty in the UK could be in the millions.
The new five-week wait for benefits will not only affect people who are unfortunate enough to be made redundant, but also anyone who is unable to continue working due to ill-health or disability – regardless of how long they’ve been in work or how much they’ve paid in National Insurance contributions.
A recent TUC poll found that 70% of people are worried about having to wait five weeks for benefits if they were to become unemployed.
TUC launched the ‘Saving Our Safety Net’ campaign earlier this year, which seeks to challenge the new rule and other benefit changes that undermine the social security system we all pay in to and could need at any moment.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The government is introducing what amounts to a ‘food banks first’ policy for anyone who loses their job or becomes too sick or disabled to work.
“It’s unrealistic and unfair to make new claimants wait five weeks or more before they receive any cash.
“While it is right to deal with people who abuse the system, ministers are now undermining the social security safety net that any of us might need.
“The government’s welfare reforms are attacking people who have done nothing wrong at a time when they most need help.”
The DWP is sending new guidance to 700 job centres, informing them that they must make claimants aware of ‘short-term cash advances’ which may be available while their claim is processed.
Responding to the announcement, Labour MP Frank Field said: “It is vital both that emergency payments are made available and that they are actively publicised to prevent the need for using a food bank.”
He added the Government should take action to “limit the amount of time it takes to process a claim”.
Only a small number of people will be eligible for emergency support while they wait for the first benefit payment to come through, say the TUC.