Five weeks. Could you wait that long?

Government plans under the new benefits system Universal Credit will make people who lose their job wait at least five weeks, instead of two, before they get a benefit cheque. They risk rent arrears, food shortages and falling back on payday loans that could tip them into spiraling debt. Our social safety net is under threat as never before…

British society is based on fairness and opportunity for all, and we are rightly proud of our welfare state. It gives us the NHS, state pensions and a state-funded safety net if we fall on hard times. We pay in when we work so we, and those we care for, get help if we lose a job, have an accident or get ill. The welfare state helps make work pay with benefits and tax credits for the low-paid, and supports the cost of raising a family by giving mothers child benefit. But this safety net is under attack. Nothing shows this better than the government’s latest plans, headed up by Department for Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, to make people who lose their job wait at least five weeks before they get a benefit cheque. However hard you have worked, however much you have contributed, ministers want to make most people wait more than a month before you get help. Advances will only be partial and available to a few. Five weeks is a long time to go without any cash. You can miss a mortgage or rent payment, and even run out of money for food. And people made redundant want to get on with looking for a new job, not spend their time trying to make ends meet and worrying about feeding their kids. Wonga and the other rip-off payday lenders will be rubbing their hands. There is nothing wrong with being tough on benefit fraud. While the sums and scale may be tiny compared to tax evasion (in fact the government’s own figures show just 0.7% of the welfare budget is claimed fraudulently), cheating undermines the decent social security system that any of us may need. But for all its tough talk, the government hasn’t reduced fraud – not least because they’ve axed thousands of staff responsible for making the system work. Instead our national insurance system is being eaten away. What has happened are cuts in the value of child benefit, cuts in help for low-paid workers, harsh sanctions for claimants who have done nothing wrong, the bedroom tax, and even cruel delays in giving help to workers diagnosed with terminal cancer. This is why the TUC and Britain’s unions are saving our safety net. Please campaign with us to defend a decent welfare state.

Take action now: Stop the Five Week Wait

In-depth analysis: Universal Credit: Solving the Problem of Delay in Benefit Payments [317 KB, PDF]