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Last week, MPs debated how the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spends our money, ahead of the Chancellor’s Spring Statement on 13 March. In just a few days, over a thousand #5WeeksTooLong campaigners emailed their MP asking them to speak up on the five week wait for Universal Credit.
MPs from across the political spectrum did just that and there were some glimmers of hope in the government minister’s response. It was a wide ranging debate but reading through the speeches of the MPs that spoke I noticed three key themes around the five week wait:
- Our benefits system should be fighting poverty
“We must never forget that, like the NHS, our social security system should be there for all of us in our time of need, providing security and dignity in retirement and the support needed should we become sick or disabled or fall on hard times. It is a vital weapon in our fight against poverty and inequality—and one of which we should be proud, not ashamed.”
Debbie Abrahams MP, Labour
“The DWP should exist to help families break free from poverty, to support people into work who are able to work and to provide security in old age.”
Christine Jardine MP, Liberal Democrat
- People are struggling with the five week wait and advance payments are not the answer
“I want to mention one of my constituents… who has said:
“I volunteer with a food bank. I am also a Methodist minister who has had to find benevolent funds to pay for gas and electricity while people wait five weeks for their first payment. We cannot expect people to live like that.”
Liz Twist MP, Labour
“57% of new Universal Credit claimants are taking an advance. The proportion of those applying for Universal Credit who have a month’s savings, as the policy assumes, is less than half. Most applicants have to go into debt to the DWP and take an advance to stay afloat in the first five weeks. Having been forced into debt in that way by the Department, far too many people find it impossible to get out of it. That is why we have seen the big increase in demand for food banks.”
Stephen Timms MP, Labour
“If there is an acceptance that people need an advance, why say that the money needs to be paid back? People cannot be expected to live off fresh air, and they should not be expected to prolong indebtedness or financial hardship”
Neil Gray MP, Shadow SNP Spokesperson
- The DWP can change the system but the Treasury needs to give them the money
“With the greatest respect, Universal Credit is not built to deal with people who have no financial resilience at all. They are the people that we are talking about, and these cuts have absolutely cut them to the bone.”
Heidi Allen MP, Independent
“There is also a growing campaign, as we have heard again today, for the Government to do more on the five-week wait for Universal Credit… I know [Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Amber Rudd MP] is pleading with the Treasury for the resources to go further, and we hope we can hear of that at the Spring Statement.”
Neil Gray MP, Shadow SNP Spokesperson
“I would certainly like the additional surplus that this excellent Chancellor has created to go towards hopefully ending the benefit freeze as soon as possible, allowing investment in universal support, and reducing further the waiting times [for Universal Credit].”
Alex Burghart MP, Conservative
The Government minister’s response
DWP minister Justin Tomlinson MP, responded by saying the Government is “continuing to listen to these debates to make further improvements”. We won’t be getting carried away just yet.
We need ministers to turn words into action and end the five week wait. Whether it’s announced in the Chancellor’s Spring Statement next week or (more likely) the Spending Review later in the year, you can help make that happen.
Join the #5WeeksTooLong campaign now or find out more on our website.