Five weeks too long

People are being forced to food banks because five weeks is too long to wait for Universal Credit. This isn’t right – the government needs to end the five week wait.


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Universal Credit should be fighting poverty, not forcing people to use food banks

We’re a country that prides itself on making sure proper support is in place for each other when help is most needed – our benefits system was created to do exactly this. But Universal Credit isn’t the poverty-fighting reform that was promised.

When we get ill, we expect a doctor to help us get better. If a fire begins in our home, we expect the fire brigade to put it out. These are problems – often beyond our control – that we have come together to take collective responsibility for. We pay our taxes and in return we expect support when we, or our neighbours, need it most.

Similarly, in the event of family breakdown, illness, disability or any of the many things that could lead to job loss or reduced income, we expect our benefits system to be the anchor that stops us being swept into poverty. In fact, when the government were introducing Universal Credit back in 2010, they said it would “substantially reduce poverty”.

But the new benefits system isn’t the poverty-fighting reform that was promised. In 2018, our research showed a 52% average increase in food bank use in areas that have had Universal Credit for at least 12 months compared to 13% in areas that have not. We know Universal Credit is not the only issue driving an increase in food bank use, but it’s a significant factor in many areas.

Fundamental questions are being asked about how and if Universal Credit can be fixed. As the debate rumbles on, more people are moving onto Universal Credit and being forced to food banks as a result – that’s why we need to see urgent changes right now.

Five weeks is too long to wait for Universal Credit. We need to end the wait.

More and more people are moving onto Universal Credit. None of them should need a food bank. But from the very start, everyone who applies has to wait at least five weeks for a first payment – some people are left waiting longer. This is leaving many without enough money to cover the basics.

Even when an application goes to plan and the wait lasts five weeks, many people are still referred to food banks struggling with debt, rent arrears and issues with mental health.

There are other problems with Universal Credit, but the five week wait is one of the key reasons why we’ve seen a rise in people needing food banks where it has been rolled out.

A five week wait is too long – it needs to end.

Food banks are picking up the pieces

Rebekah has seen many people referred to her food bank because of the impact the five week wait is having on people. She shared the experience of someone she recently helped:

“We had a single person referred to us that was suffering from health problems and living alone in council accommodation. Their previous disability benefit was suspended, and then they were told they would have to apply for Universal Credit, which they did, but have been left with no income and no money in the bank in the meantime.

This has led to them having no money for food, electricity and having their phone disconnected. They are also now accruing rent arrears, are concerned that further action will be taken and are at risk of becoming homeless. All this is having a negative effect on their mental health and they have had to seek support from their GP.”

No one should have to go through this. The wait for Universal Credit is five weeks too long.

The government knows the five week wait is too long

The government knows some people struggle with the five week wait but the changes they’ve made so far won’t stop people needing a food bank. They need to do more. The best way to make sure no one needs a food bank while waiting for Universal Credit is to end the five week wait.

The government has done two things to try to help people struggling with the five week wait:

  1. While you’re waiting for a first payment, you can apply for some or all of it to be paid early – this is then taken from your payments when they come through. But this puts people between a rock and a hard place: no money now or not enough money later?
  2. If you’re already supported by some benefits under the old system, the government has said these will carry on being paid for two weeks. But this is only for some people from July 2020, and it still leaves a three week gap. 1.6 million people are expected to move to Universal Credit over the next 12 months alone, and will not get this support.

It doesn't have to be like this

There’s a five week wait because the government designed Universal Credit to work that way. We need to convince them to change it. Here’s how we’ll do that:

Join together

Everyone who thinks the government should end the five week wait joins together with food banks, charities, faith and community groups to be part of the #5WeeksTooLong campaign.

Build pressure

We’ll show how damaging the five week wait is, get coverage in the media and take action by emailing, tweeting and meeting politicians of all parties so they know it’s #5WeeksTooLong.

Make change

When the time is right, everyone who’s part of #5WeeksTooLong will demand change from those in charge – like when the Chancellor makes big spending decisions for the government.

Join the #5WeeksTooLong campaign now

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Find out more about Universal Credit and the five week wait