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.”

Have you been affected by the five week wait for Universal Credit or know someone who has?
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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

Who’s backing the #5WeeksTooLong campaign?

“Young people experiencing homelessness urgently need access to the vital safety net that Universal Credit should provide. But too often we see the young people we support in our services pushed into severe hardship because of the 5-week wait for their first Universal Credit payment. The current system is setting homeless young people up to fail. That’s why Centrepoint supports the #5WeeksTooLong campaign.”

“Our benefits system should be there for people, not put them through greater hardship. When a government service relies on people being referred to food banks to get by, we know there is a real problem that should not be ignored. We know volunteers in food banks across the country who devote their time to helping people but it should not be necessary. Making people wait five weeks for their first payment is not treating them with dignity. It is too long and it must change. “

“We know that making people wait for the money they’re entitled to is one of the key ways that Universal Credit is trapping people in poverty. Church Action on Poverty supports the #5WeeksTooLong campaign because our benefits system should make sure everyone has access to good food, and no one has to go to bed hungry. We’re working with churches across the UK to put their faith into action, by calling on Government to take urgent action to fix Universal Credit.”

“In recent years we have witnessed an increase in food poverty on our doorstep. There have been more and more people coming to our door who are visibly undernourished, who may have not eaten for days and who ask us for something to eat. How can this be right? We have opened our own Emergency Food Support service to support those in need, but systemic policy change is needed to address the root causes. Five weeks is far too long for families to receive the Universal Credit payment they need to stay afloat, and that is why Community Links supports the #5WeeksTooLong campaign.”

“The 5 week wait is leaving many people that come through our doors struggling to pay their rent while they try to cover the cost of essentials like bills and food and pay back any advance payments. This rising pressure can quickly force people into homelessness. Universal Credit needs to be properly resourced so it can act as a comprehensive safety net for people when they need it and respond rapidly to prevent homelessness. That means ending the 5 week wait, without delay.”

“Depaul UK works with thousands of young people affected by homelessness every year, more and more are suffering because of the five week wait. It’s unacceptable to expect young people in such desperate circumstances to ask for a Universal Credit advance that has to be paid back. Universal Credit could still be an improvement on the benefits it’s replacing if the heartless five week wait is abolished.”

“We support #5WeeksTooLong because we believe the 5 week wait for Universal Credit forces people into financial crises. While thousands are waiting for the benefits that are due to them  their bills are still coming in and there is food to buy and basics desperately needed. This situation often catapults them into the arms of high cost loan companies as these costs don’t just go away. This results in a domino effect that drives further high costs and yet more poverty.”

“We know that over a quarter of a million single parents are on Universal Credit. The wait for payments is having a devastating impact on their finances. Many single parents are having to take out loans to cover the shortfall of the waiting period to cover the upfront cost of childcare, food and bills because they don’t have savings to dip into. The government can change this; they need to ensure there is adequate support for single parents on UC.”

“People who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, don’t have money to fall back on while they wait for their first Universal Credit payment. During this time people are going without food or heating, unable to move into accommodation, facing eviction, or are forced to take out a loan that enters them into a vicious cycle of debt that is almost impossible to get out of. Our benefits system should support people away from homelessness but this won’t happen if they have to wait #5WeeksTooLong.”

“Through our network of more than 120 grassroots night shelter projects across the country we are seeing the effect of the sclerotic Universal Credit system on those experiencing homelessness, at times preventing people moving on with their lives in to settled accommodation. Housing Justice is supporting the #5weekstoolong campaign to ensure no one has to go without food, heating or a warm and secure home while they wait for welfare.”

“Every year 300,000 people with mental health problems fall out of work. Coping with that change can be difficult enough, but having to wait more than five weeks to get support from the benefits system is too often pushing people into a cycle of debt, housing problems and deteriorating mental health. We need to see a benefits system that’s there for us when we need it and that’s why we support the #5WeeksTooLong campaign.”

“The MND Association believes the 5 week wait for a first Universal Credit payment is an unacceptable delay for people living with rapidly progressive and terminal conditions such as MND. We are particularly concerned about the impact this is having on claimants who are applying for Universal Credit via the Special Rules for Terminal Illness, who do not appear to be exempt from this built-in delay either.”

“Housing associations are on the frontline in supporting tenants with the change to Universal Credit. Time and again we are hearing that the biggest challenge that tenants face is the 5 week wait for their first payment. The National Housing Federation believe that this policy is unnecessary and further pushes people into financial difficulty and potential rent arrears at a time of instability. Universal Credit must work in the best interests of tenants and landlords to help secure sustainable homes for those most in need, which is why we support the #5WeeksTooLong campaign.”

“P3 Charity is adding its voice to the #5WeeksTooLong campaign. Daily, our services see the impact this wait is having on people’s lives. P3 is supporting people who are left without money for food, rent and utilities. The wait forces people into debt—with accruing rent arrears—putting people at risk of homelessness. This five week wait is causing acute anxiety and distress and should be brought to an immediate end.”

“Rethink Mental Illness are pleased too support the #5weeksTooLong campaign. The 5 week wait runs the risk of people living with severe mental illness becoming more unwell, accumulating debt and being unable to meet basic needs. No policy rationale has been put forward for the 5 week wait and the wellbeing of people living with severe mental illness is more valuable than a one off cost saving.”

“Riverside is adding its voice to the #5WeeksTooLong campaign, as we’re aware of the hardship being experienced by our tenants having to wait 5 weeks for their Universal Credit payment and it’s pushing them into debt. Our tenants, including customers in our homelessness services, have told us that they are struggling to keep afloat.

This long wait means that many people are going without food or heating and they are getting into debt to cover their bills. We welcome the simplicity that moving to an integrated benefit is intended to bring, but the way Universal Credit is being implemented means that instead of acting as a safety net, it is dragging people into debt.”

“Across our centres, time and again, our local community leaders tell us that the five week wait, under Universal Credit, is causing significant, and unnecessary, hardship for people they help every day. And they’re angry because they know it doesn’t have to be this way. They know government is choosing policies that push people into hardship, not lifting them up at a time they need the most help. We are fully behind Trussell Trust’s campaign to end this wait, and will continue push for policy solutions that enable people to live in dignity, free from fear or destitution.”

“Shelter helps millions of people every year struggling with bad housing or homelessness through our advice, support and legal services. Since the roll-out of Universal Credit, we see many people pushed into rent arrears and facing the threat of homelessness. The five-week wait at the start of a UC application exacerbates an already difficult situation for many, caused by housing benefit not covering private rents in most of the country, leaving people with no income at all. In supporting the #5WeeksTooLong campaign we want to make sure the wait is removed as soon as possible.”

“Every day we support people who are struggling with spiralling debt, hardship and health problems because they have been forced to take on debt to meet day to day living costs. There is no good reason to push financially vulnerable people into debt and further hardship through unnecessary delays. We support the #5WeeksTooLong campaign because Universal Credit should be part of the solution not the problem.”

“St Mungo’s provides housing and support to thousands of homeless and vulnerable people, who tell us the five week wait is having a serious impact. The majority of people we work with cannot bridge such a long gap in their income.  People told us they have used foodbanks, run up huge arrears, or been forced to take out risky loans whilst waiting for their first payment. Others are put at serious risk of losing their homes. We want people to have a home for good. That means access to an income  – which is why we are supporting the #5WeeksTooLong campaign.”

“Turn2us is here to stop people being thrown into poverty. Making claimants wait 5 weeks for their first payment of Universal Credit is going to put many already struggling families into a real financial crisis.

The wait means that many people are almost automatically being thrown into debt when they are moved to Universal Credit. Many can’t put food on the table and the most vulnerable are worse effected. The 5 week wait breaks the safety net for thousands of people who need it, but this is easy to fix.”

“Everyone who applies for Universal Credit has to wait at least five weeks for their first payment. That’s leaving many people without enough money to cover the basics, forcing them to rely on food banks and other forms of emergency support. This is an utterly inhumane and indefensible approach that scars lives and communities alike. That’s why we’re throwing our support behind the Trussell Trust’s campaign to end the five week wait for Universal Credit.”