I’ve urged ministers to address growing uncertainty around gaps in government support schemes as further local lockdowns come into force.
Speaking in Welsh Questions yesterday, I said “At a time when more local areas are facing lockdowns, I urge Ministers to do far more to help those who have fallen through the gaps, at the very least by addressing the five-week wait for universal credit—it should be a grant, not an advance.”
In response, Welsh Secretary Simon Hart said “We are always striving and will always strive to ensure that we improve every one of our schemes. Where there are gaps, which we have identified before we will do everything we can to ensure that they are plugged.”
The five-week wait for a first Universal Credit payment was a cause of widespread hardship before the pandemic struck – but its impact has only been exacerbated by the situation. The advance loan payment system is only serving to push more people into debt at a time when they can least afford it.
Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) suggests that Universal Credit claimants have seen an average fall in net income of around 40% during the coronavirus crisis. The self-employed and those who started claiming Universal Credit in response to the pandemic have been among the worst-hit. Given that the country is still in the grip of the crisis, and with local lockdowns being implemented, now is the time for action both to shore up an ineffective benefits system, and look at targeted support for thousands who are still falling through the cracks that exist in government support schemes.