The Government has today (4 September 2014) rejected a recommendation from the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) to exempt sick and disabled people from a new seven-day wait to claim unemployment benefits.
Under the current system people who lose their jobs, or become too sick or disabled to continue working, have to wait three days before they make a claim for benefits.
New rules coming into force from 27 October this year will force people, including the sick and disabled, who lose their jobs to wait seven days before they can make a claim for Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). ESA is an out-of-work benefit for sick and disabled people who are unable to continue working.
The Tory-led coalition argued that such an exemption would “reduce the financial savings from the change”, implying that saving money is more important than the welfare of vulnerable and disabled people.
The government estimates that the seven-day wait for benefits will save £165 million in 2016/17, insisting that “it is reasonable to expect the great majority of ESA and JSA claimants to support themselves during the first 7 days of sickness or unemployment”.
Concerns have also been raised about the potential impact of the change on newly unemployed people’s ability to pay housing costs. However, the government’s response to the recommendations says “82% of JSA claimants and 74% of ESA claimants who are required to serve waiting days do not receive Housing Benefit in the month of their claim.”
The Trade Union Congress (TUC) said that the change was a “food banks-first policy”, which will “push disabled people into hardship”. Adding that the introduction of Universal Credit could result in newly unemployed people having to wait up to five weeks before they receive any money.
Responding to today’s announcement, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“It’s cruel to push disabled people into hardship and debt by making them wait a week before they can claim benefits.
“It’s cynical of the government to seek financial gains from the hardship of people who paid their national insurance to protect their family if ever disaster strikes. This is a food banks-first policy that undermines the safety net and puts us all at risk of hunger and debt if we fall on hard times.
“Things will get worse still under plans to replace benefits with a new Universal Credit, which will be paid a whole month in arrears. This will leave most people waiting more than five weeks before they receive any cash help. It’s right to deal with the minority who abuse the system, but the reality of welfare reforms like these is that they abuse vulnerable people who need support.”