Chancellor Philip Hammond announced some changes to Universal Credit in today’s budget. Firstly, let’s be absolutely honest: these changes do not address the multiple and serious issues with Universal Credit, many of which are designed into the system, and can only be fixed by a root-and-branch reassessment of Universal Credit. The Tories have thus far shown themselves totally resistant to do what is needed on Universal Credit.
Secondly, not a single one of these changes would have happened without pressure from our side of the house, and the thousands of brilliant activists who have campaigned so tirelessly on the issue. Up until the summer, the Government were happily ploughing on with the Universal Credit roll out, and looking forward to ramping it up over the Autumn and Winter months.
But thirdly, and importantly, the changes announced today do not nearly go far enough to address the multiple problems with Universal Credit waiting times, advance payments and the housing element. Here are five problems with what the Chancellor announced today:
1. Taking out the initial seven day waiting period only reduces the minimum waiting time for a first Universal Credit payment to five weeks. Many other claimants will wait longer because of the inefficiencies in the system. Overall, the waiting period will still put immense pressure on claimants and their families.
2. Advance payments are still a loan, and crucially need to be paid back. Yes, it will help some claimants in the short term, but it merely papers over the cracks of more, long term financial hardship as deductions are taken from their future entitlement
3. Philip Hammond’s speech rehashed something that has been said to me repeatedly over the last couple of months by the DWP: that claimants will get access to the advance payment loan within five days. But the problem remains that claimants have a gap in the five days that they are waiting for an advance payment to be paid. The vast majority of Universal Credit claimants have no ‘reserves’ to call on.
4.We now know that these changes won’t be implemented until January 2018, which will be of no use to those constituencies, like my own, which face full service roll out before then. What help will there be to all those people who are already on Universal Credit and are in hundreds of pounds worth of debt and rent arrears?
5. It was announced that housing benefit will continue to be paid for two weeks. This is obviously welcome, but is designed for people who are already on housing benefit. What happens to new claimants?
I hope this Government doesn’t see this tinkering as enough to ease the pressure on Universal Credit claimants, because it is totally insufficient. The roll out of Universal Credit should be paused and totally remodelled, but yet again, this Government has ignored the pleas of claimants, advice agencies and housing providers and carries on regardless. Why would anyone be surprised?