The SNP’s Women and Equalities spokesperson has demanded Boris Johnson make scrapping the debt-inducing five week wait and advance payment loans under Universal Credit a priority in 2021 to help struggling families.
Anne McLaughlin MP has called again for the minimum five-week wait for a first Universal Credit payment to be abolished and advance payments be turned into non-repayable grants – instead of loans – to ease the struggle for many families as we continue to fight Coronavirus pandemic.
Charities and anti-poverty campaigners, such as the Trussell Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, as well as the Work and Pensions Committee – who have all linked the five-week wait to increased debt and foodbank use in the UK – have also called for these steps to be taken.
The Trussell Trust’s latest figures show that almost half of people at food banks have had or face having money deducted from their benefits payments – with 73% of households on Universal Credit at food banks over the summer repaying an advance payment to the government.
The Legatum Institute has also reported that more than 15 million – 23% of the UK population – are now in poverty.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation – in its most recent report on destitution – has recommended that the UK government work to ensure that debt deductions from benefits are not drivers of hardship and destitution.
The report revealed the number of households experiencing destitution in the UK had increased by 35% since 2017, and that half of all destitute households were receiving Universal Credit (UC) or had applied for it, with interviewees identifying the five-week wait as one of the most problematic aspects of Universal Credit.
A report by the Work and Pensions Committee has also found that many people are waiting longer than five weeks for their first Universal Credit payment – more than 200,000 in 2020 – with disabled people and people with health conditions having to wait an average of four months because of the time taken to complete the Work Capability assessment.
The SNP say their proposal to turn advance payment loans into grants after a person is deemed eligible would solve this issue.
Commenting, Anne McLaughlin MP said: “Whilst many will be able to splash out more than usual this Christmas and in the January sales to make up for the hard year we have faced – particularly those in higher-income households who have saved money during the pandemic – millions of families will struggle to afford even the basics over the festive season and as we head into the New Year.
“Even before the coronavirus pandemic hit, a worrying number of families across the UK were struggling with debt and turning to food banks because of Tory austerity policies.
“The coronavirus crisis has compounded these challenges and delivered a severe hit to people’s livelihoods and households.
“All of the figures we have seen relating to the impact of the five-week wait make for dire reading, and we must not forget that behind these statistics are families hit by the pandemic and in desperate need of support.
“The Chancellor pledged at the start of the crisis that the UK government would do ‘whatever it takes’ to help people. That rhetoric must be met with real action from the UK government – including implementing the SNP’s proposal to scrap the five-week wait and making the advance payments grants instead of loans within Universal Credit as soon as possible in the New Year.
“Beyond that the £20 Universal Credit uplift must be made permanent and extend it to legacy benefits and he must announce that he will do that now to ease the stress and worry that many families will be feeling as they wonder how they will get by next year.
“This unprecedented crisis requires an unprecedented response. If the Chancellor fails to act then millions more could be pushed into debt and poverty and forced to turn to foodbanks.
“If the UK government chooses not to act then it must devolve the necessary powers to Holyrood so the Scottish Government can do what needs to be done to protect families across Scotland.”