Universal Credit Uncovered: 9 weeks that show we must end the wait

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A blog post by
Tom Say
Campaigns Manager

Over the past nine weeks we’ve been working with a wide range of charities and organisations on #UniversalCreditUncovered, shining a spotlight on the reality of living under Universal Credit.

The support and unity we have experienced has been nothing short of staggering.

We have seen thousands of people come together as part of #5WeeksTooLong campaign, along with more than 40 organisations and food banks across the UK, to say enough is enough.

We will not accept the five week wait – and often longer – for a first payment under the  new benefits system. The Government’s ‘Advance Payments’ are supposed to help people through those five weeks but these loans are not the solution as paying them back causes more hardship later on.

#UniversalCreditUncovered started as a reaction to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) launching newspaper advertorials to “myth-bust common inaccuracies” about Universal Credit. Front and back page ads appeared in the Metro newspaper, alongside features inside.

But as the weeks of the DWP ads wore on, the charity sector came together to ensure the voices of the thousands of people affected every day were heard.

People told us of the stress they have endured trying to keep their heads above water when they should have instead been anchored from poverty. We heard from people facing terminal illness, disabled people, homeless people, single mums and people with mental health issues. We heard how the wait has plunged people already on tight budgets, into debt and how so many had been driven to use food banks.

This is not right – but it can change.

Charities that have now called on the Government to end the five week wait as part of our #5WeeksTooLong campaign, include single parent charity Gingerbread, mental health charities Mind, homelessness charities like Centrepoint, housing associations like the Riverside Group.

More than 80 charities in the Disability Benefits Consortium, as well as Scope, MNDA Society and MS Society, have joined the campaign to talk about the impact on disabled people.

Women’s Aid, Refuge and the Women’s Budget Group have told us about how the wait affects domestic abuse survivors.

While debt charity StepChange explained why ‘advance payments’ lock people in debt and aren’t a solution to waiting for payments.

Of course our own network of food banks has also come together to highlight the issues people at food banks face.  As a result, we’ve seen countless news stories, opinion pieces and social media conversations about the five week wait. The cohesion we’ve seen and felt right across the sector has been phenomenal.

And it seems to be working. On Monday Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Jeremy Hunt vowed to scrap the five week wait if he becomes prime minister.

The Conservative leadership hopeful said Work and Pensions secretary Amber Rudd had “persuaded him” that change is needed to stop people falling into debt at the beginning of their swap to the new system.

This signifies that a shift could come soon, and shows the power and positivity of working together to create change. It has built the pressure needed if we are to see the long-term changes needed to help keep people afloat when they move onto Universal Credit.

But we cannot become complacent.

We must continue to hold the Government to account and ask them to listen to the many organisations and people that have joined #5WeeksTooLong. They must tackle the reasons why so many people waiting for Universal Credit are being forced to food banks.

Universal Credit is not the poverty-fighting benefit reform it was promised to be and we know the five-week wait for a first payment is one of the biggest issues people face when moving onto it.

This wait is five weeks too long – ending it must be the Government’s first priority. Agree? Join us.