Welfare system failing thousands of its most vulnerable claimants, MPs told

Long waits for payments biggest cause of food bank use, and are forcing people including terminally ill into debt and ‘survival crime’, inquiry evidence says

Britain’s social security system is failing thousands of its most vulnerable claimants, with delays and errors in processing welfare benefits leaving many sick and disabled people, including some with cancer, for months without income.

MPs have been told that long waits for benefit payments are the single biggest cause of food bank use and are forcing claimants into debt and “survival crime” such as shoplifting, as well as triggering stress, mental illness and homelessness.

Charities and local authorities say the millions of pounds they spend providing advice and help to vulnerable individuals left in crisis by avoidable benefit delays is unsustainable, and they cannot “shore up” the system’s failings indefinitely.

The claims are contained in over 60 evidence submissions by frontline charities, food banks, councils, housing associations, private landlords, academics and individuals to a Commons select committee inquiry on benefit delivery which starts on Wednesday.

A Guardian analysis of the evidence reveals:

  • Widespread concern that a key design feature of universal credit, which requires new claimants to wait 42 days before receiving payment, will plunge thousands of families into hardship and debt.
  • Anger from care organisations that claimants with terminal illnesses such as cancer are still subjected to delays to their benefit entitlements, despite government promises to fast-track such applications.
  • Disquiet that official hardship funds are often not offered to vulnerable claimants facing long delays, forcing them to rely on charity help, take out doorstep loans, or go without food and heating.
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