The Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) ran the consultation after the DWP warned that the seven day waiting period already introduced for current out of work sickness and unemployment benefits is being extended to Universal Credit. As the SSAC rightly point out this will leave most new claimants without any benefits at all for six weeks due to the monthly payment cycle of Universal Credit. Perhaps most shocking of all, this will include payments intended to cover rents, meaning new claimants will not just face the trauma of losing their job but immediately be plunged into huge rent arrears.
The plans have been met with outrage by charities, housing associations, local authorities and even landlords. One organisation, the hardly fucking radical Chartered Institute for Housing, points out that: “Even under the poor law that preceded the welfare state it was unlawful for the authority to refuse support to a person who had no income or savings even for a short period of time.”
The result of the consultation is that the SSAC recommended to the Government that this proposal should not proceed. The DWP, predictably, have rejected this recommendation on the basis that they think people will have enough money to tide them over.
According to the DWP, most people are paid monthly and so should receive a final salary payment if they leave work and it is ‘not unreasonable’ to expect them to budget this money to last the full six weeks. They also claim that low earners will aready be on Universal Credit anyway, so they will not face a waiting period if they lose their job.
The truth is that a single person, with relatively low housing costs, will cease being eligible for Universal Credit if their earnings go above about £310 a week before tax. This is the kind of ‘relatively higher-income employment’ that the DWP believe means a person will have a couple of months rent lying around somewhere, as well as enough cash to get them through the next six weeks. It is fucking astonishing they can say this stuff with a straight face. What is perhaps of most concern is that they might actually believe it.
The DWP have brushed aside concerns that many workers are not paid monthly, particularly in lower paid jobs. McDonalds, for example, pay fortnightly, whilst lots of agency and cleaning jobs pay weekly. Additionally not everyone comes onto benefits after leaving work – a failed business, the end of a relationship or someone leaving the parental home can also trigger a benefit claim. The DWP merely say that these people might be able to apply for a benefit advance, although this will be conditional on whether they think the person can afford to pay it back. With some people likely to face housing costs running to over a thousand pounds, and that’s before they eat, it is unlikely that a Short Term Benefit Advance will do anything to bridge the gap.
The SSAC also recommended that if this policy were not to be scrapped then exempting the housing element of Universal Credit from the waiting period might “mitigate against the harshest impacts”. The DWP have responded that this would only confuse claimants and therefore not meet the aim of simplifying Universal Credit.
For the last five years we have been told that giving money to the very poorest will make only make them lazy and unhealthy. Now apparently it will confuse them as well, as if they will not be able to cope with such riches as being able to afford to pay their rent. There has rarely been more transparent bullshit spoken to justify what is nothing more than a simple transfer of wealth from people in poverty to line the pockets of the filthy rich. According to the DWP the money saved by this policy will be re-invested in welfare-to-work support, meaning yet more lucrative contracts for the likes of G4S, Maximus and A4e and the multi-millionaires who run and own them.
You can download the SSAC’s report and the Government’s response at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-universal-credit-waiting-days-amendment-regulations-2015-si-2015-no-1362-ssac-report
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