More than two million desperate people have made new claims for welfare benefits during the Coronavirus lockdown, the Tory Work and Pensions Secretary has admitted today.
Thérèse Coffey MP admitted the shocking spike in claims during a statement to Parliament, but insisted that despite the added pressure on staff the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been “working tirelessly to provide help and support to those in need.”
She told MPs: “Since 16 March to the end of April, we have received over 1.8 million claims for Universal Credit, over 250,000 claims for Jobseeker’s Allowance, and over 20,000 claims for Employment and Support Allowance.
“Overall, this is 6 times the volume that we would typically experience and in one week, we had a 10-fold increase.”
Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Jonathan Reynolds MP, urged the UK Government to “widen the safety net” to protect low-income households.
“The social security system we had going into this crisis was a safety net with too many holes in it,” he said.
Mr Reynolds also called for a suspension of the benefit cap, which limits the total amount a household can receive in benefits each month, and scrap the five-week wait for Universal Credit and two-child limit.
SNP Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Neil Gray MP said today’s figures show why the UK Government needs to strengthen the welfare safety net.
He said: “The UK Government must recognise the current welfare system is not generous or flexible enough – neither Universal Credit or legacy benefits – to properly support the millions of people that need help amid the coronavirus crisis.
“Whilst the majority of social security powers remain reserved to Westminster, I am urging the UK government to look seriously at our proposal to implement grants not loans under Universal Credit – and heed our call to strengthen welfare protections by introducing an emergency basic payment, scrapping the two child limit and associated rape clause, increasing child benefit and restoring benefits slashed by the benefit freeze.”
Coffey said the rate of new claims has begun to stabilise, but added that between 20,000 to 25,000 people per day are still making fresh claims for Universal Credit – “which is double that of a standard week pre-COVID-19,” she said.
However, she said the DWP “is standing up to the challenge”, after redeploying around 8,000 staff from other Government departments, and paid tribute to staff who she said are “the hidden heroes for many people in this country.”
She confessed that some people had faced long waiting times in verifying their identity when claiming Universal Credit but claimed this has now fallen to “below 5 minutes.”
“Call volumes have also been extremely high, with over 2.2 million calls in one day at our peak,” she added.
“Recognising again the delays people were experiencing or indeed not being able to get through at all, we turned this around with our “Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You” campaign.
“A bolstered frontline team now proactively calls claimants when we need to check any information provided as part of the claim.
“This has been very successful in freeing capacity and reducing the time customers need to spend on the phone.”