It is always worth reading the Guardian’s Patrick Butler on social policy issues

Patrick Butler, from The Guardian, is always worth reading on any social policy issues. An example are these two extracts from his column in Friday’s Guardian (15th September 2017)

The work and pensions select committee has launched an inquiry into universal credit after hearing evidence from landlords, charities and tenants about extensive problems associated with it.

Frank Field, the committee chair, said: “Everything I have seen so far, on the committee and in my constituency, points to fundamental flaws in the operation of universal credit, which must be resolved before the full service roll-out proceeds.”

The Department for Work and Pensions evaluation found that 42% of all claimant families surveyed said the wait for a first universal credit payment to be processed and DWP administrative errors were the cause of their rent arrears.

Four in 10 households were in rent arrears eight weeks after the claim was made, with nearly one in three still in arrears four months later. One in five owed £1,000 or more. Four out of five said they had never been in arrears before.

Half of new claimants needed a DWP loan to help pay for living expenses such as food and gas bills while they waited for a first payment, while nearly one-third borrowed cash from family or friends. About one in 10 took out loans with payday or doorstep lenders.

Universal credit was introduced in 2013 to simplify the social security system by rolling six main benefits into one. However, management failings and IT problems have left it years behind schedule, while budget cuts mean millions of working families moving on to the benefit will be worse off.

Patrick explained the workings of universal Credit:

New universal credit claimants wait a minimum of 42 days for a first payment. This comprises a seven day “waiting period” before a claim can be made, a one-month assessment period to determine how much the claimant should be paid, and a further week for the payment to go through.

In practice, however, charities say many claimants wait even longer for a first payment. People on low incomes often have few or no savings to tide them over during the waiting period, forcing them to turn to debt and food banks.

The DWP has stood by the 42-day wait, arguing that it is needed to get claimants on to a monthly payment schedule, and newly unemployed claimants should expect to have one month’s salary to fall back on. However, charities say one in four workers are not paid monthly, meaning they have to survive for at least six weeks on two weeks’ pay.

Earlier this year, the Trussell Trust reported that food bank referral rates were running at more than double the national average in areas where universal credit had been rolled out. The trust said benefit delays led to debt, mental illness, rent arrears and eviction.

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