Yesterday, Stephen spoke in the House of Commons Chamber as part of the Department for Work and Pensions Estimates Debate. He used the opportunity to criticise the current five-week wait between claimants applying for universal credit and being entitled to their first payment.
Arguing that this wait - along with other flaws in the implementation of the system - is pushing some of the most vulnerable people in our society further into poverty, Stephen highlighted damning statistics from the Trussel Trust which link the roll-out of Universal Credit to an increase in the use of food banks. The charity has found that the increase in referrals to food banks was 52% in areas where the benefit has been rolled out for 12 months or more. This compares with a significantly lower increase of 13% in places which have only had Universal Credit for three months or less.
Stephen also made reference to a recent written answer from the Department for Work and Pensions, revealing that 57% of new universal credit claimants are receiving an advance payment before the benefit itself is paid. This advance takes the form of a loan from the Department, meaning that the majority of Universal Credits claimants are forced into debt to the DWP right from the beginning of their claim.
When the controversial policy was first introduced, it was defended by the then Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith as helping to more accurately reflect the world of work. In his view, claimants should be able to use the money from their last pay cheque to tide them over the five-week wait period.
However, Stephen strongly rejected this rationale and explained why during yesterday’s debate. Speaking in the Chamber, Stephen said: “There are some obvious problems with that justification. For example, what about those who are paid weekly?”. He continued: “According to the latest annual survey of hours and earnings, 16.2% are paid weekly and 2.9% are paid fortnightly. What are those people supposed to do during this five-week gap? ”.
Stephen has been a long-standing critic of the Government’s welfare policy, calling for the roll-out of Universal Credit to be paused and fixed before any more damage can be done.