Theresa May has u-turned on far smaller policy issues and after much less pressure. It's time to scrap this one, too—before even more people sufferby Dawn Foster / October 18, 2017 / Leave a comment
A few years ago, I learnt to visit nearby coffee shops before visiting interview subjects about benefits. After twice meeting people mortally embarrassed that they couldn’t offer tea or coffee, because they were struggling to afford electricity, I started calling them to offer to collect a drink for them. Now, with Universal Credit delays, I’ve learnt to pick up sandwiches too.
The delays built into Universal Credit are extreme: no one I’ve spoken to has waited for less than six weeks; some have waited four months. Few people I know have enough money to support themselves entirely without earnings—those who do have savings could only make them last for a week or two with housing costs. Most people applying for Universal Credit don’t have savings at all, having either lived on subsistence benefits or supplemented their income with benefits to make ends meet.
Nearly all of them have a difficult choice to make. If you don’t pay your rent, you’ll be evicted and made homeless—the Observer reports half of people receiving the housing element of Universal Credit are a month behind with their rent, and one in three are two months behind.
The only option for most people stuck waiting for payments is to cut their food bill, and cease using electricity and central heating. A veteran I spoke to this week hadn’t eaten for four days and had been without electricity for that whole period. An employee of a large city council told me they’d spoken to a woman who was behind with her rent due to Universal Credit delays, and were shocked to hear she was eating twice a week while waiting for payments to come through.
The news from David Gauke, the work and pensions secretary, that the helpline for claimants will be free by Christmas will barely comfort those being shifted onto the system. The fact that calls to the line cost 55p per minute from mobiles was financially ruinous for many claimants, who were often on hold for 30 minutes at a time and reported being cut off and having to rejoin the queue, swiftly eating up their phone credit. The announcement represents a big political win for the Labour party, after a sustained, high pressure campaign against the helpline costs.
Yet the main…