Universal Credit’s failings can’t be glossed over with ad campaign

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A blog post by
Tom Say
Campaigns Manager

This week the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) launched “Universal Credit Uncovered”, newspaper advertorials to “myth-bust common inaccuracies” about the Government’s new benefits system.

The nine-week campaign kicks off with a front and back page advert in the Metro newspaper and a four-page feature inside, and purposefully does not feature any DWP branding.

At the same time Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty, has published his final report on poverty in Britain. We think of ourselves as a nation built on justice and compassion.

But this damning report shows we have a long way to go before these principles are lived out in the policies our government delivers for us.

This only demonstrates further that obvious failures in the government’s welfare policy can’t be glossed over with an ad campaign.

It is a distraction from the reality: too many people are being forced to food banks due to their time spent without any money as they wait at least five weeks for their first universal credit payment.

They might be facing homelessness, living with disabilities or health issues, struggling with debt or rent arrears, or escaping domestic abuse.

That’s why the Trussell Trust will be doing our own ‘Universal Credit Uncovered’ in response

We’ll be stepping up our calls for an end to the five week wait for Universal Credit by shining a spotlight on the different effects this wait can have on people. We’ll hear the voices of those directly affected and the people supporting them.

The DWP has said – and will undoubtedly say again – the ‘advance payments’ people can apply for while they wait are there to tide people over during the five week wait.

But these payments are loans that have to be repaid. Locking more people into debt, right at the point when they most need support, is no solution.

As we’ll see over the course of our campaign, the fallout of waiting at least five weeks for Universal Credit can have a devastating impact on people’s lives.

What that looks like can be very different for different people, but it’s all rooted in one common factor: people already in hardship having to wait more than a month for vital payments to come through.

We’re not alone in thinking the wait for Universal Credit is five weeks too long. So far, more than 13,000 people and more than 20 different organisations have joined the #5WeeksTooLong campaign to call for an end to the five week wait for Universal Credit.

Mind, Shelter, Unison and StepChange and many more in-between are standing with us to say enough is enough.

The DWP should listen to the many organisations that have joined #5WeeksTooLong and tackle the reasons why so many of the people who most need its help are being forced to food banks after moving on to the new benefit.

We know what needs to change if we want to keep people afloat instead of pulling them under.

We know that the five-week wait for a first payment is one of the biggest issues people face when moving on to Universal Credit.

This wait is five weeks too long – ending it must be the government’s first priority.