The controversial Universal Credit system is beginning to buckle as thousands of previously self-employed people are forced to beg for financial support due to inadequate protections, amid the Coronavirus outbreak.
Close to half a million people have attempted to claim Universal Credit online in the last nine days, leading to long delays of more than an hour as the system struggles to cope with the surge in demand.
It isn’t known how many people have simply given up waiting, but indications suggest that many of these new applications are from self-employed people who have been let down by the Government’s response to Covid-19.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) admitted on Wednesday that almost 500,000 people (477,000) have applied for Universal Credit over the last nine days.
DWP Secretary Thérèse Coffey MP told MPs: “In the last nine days we’ve processed nearly half a million claims.
“We don’t know if they’re self-employed or at different stages, and I want to assure people that help, even if it’s not currently the level of help they would like, is there to help them through the safety net of the welfare state.”
The DWP’s permanent secretary Peter Schofield told MPs that despite the surge in applications “the online journey is holding up well.”
However, one claimant tweeted that there were 145,000 peope were ahead of them in a queue to have their Universal Credit claim counted and processed.
It’s claimed that the average waiting time is around one hour, but some applicants say they are waiting much longer than this.
The DWP says 1,500 of its staff have been redeployed to the frontline of Universal Credit, with a further 3,900 later this week.
The department expects that a total of around 10,000 staff will be redeployed to help with new Universal Credit claims in the coming weeks, but this comes after many DWP staff lost their jobs to austerity cuts.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak (pictured above) is expected to deliver a new package of measures later today (Thursday) to help self-employed people.
ITV News reports: “A financial package aimed at helping self-employed workers get through the coronavirus crisis will be announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak with the Government under growing pressure to throw the sector a lifeline.
“The move comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Parliament he wanted to achieve “parity of support” so the self-employed could have similar levels of protection to waged workers.
“Last week, the Government set out plans for 80% wage subsidies or up to £2,500 per month for staff kept on by employers, as part of “unprecedented” measures to prevent workers being laid off due to the virus crisis.
“The Chancellor later said drawing up plans to help self-employed people had proved to be “incredibly complicated”.
According to some media reports, not all self-employed people will find their incomes fully protected when the Chancellor unveils his plans later today (Thursday).