Delays in government’s flagship welfare reform has caused debt, rent arrears and health problems, says Labour MP Frank Field.
Huge built-in delays in the processing of universal credit benefit claims have turned the government’s flagship welfare reform into a “recruiting sergeant for food banks”, according to Labour MP Frank Field.
Field, the chair of the Commons work and pensions select committee, said the minimum six-week payment period faced by new UC claimants led to reliance on emergency food parcels, triggered debt and rent arrears, and caused health problems.
Field has written to the work and pensions secretary, Damian Green, asking him to cut the lengthy and stressful wait for payments faced by penniless claimants.
“This is an unbelievably long time for people at the bottom to survive with no money, and I have received evidence to suggest people have been exposed to hunger and homelessness during this 42-day period,” he wrote.
The lengthy wait for UC payments was reported as the main cause of referral for one in nine of the 79 cases presenting at a food bank in his local Birkenhead, Merseyside, constituency in recent weeks, the veteran poverty campaigner said.
The Department for Work and Pensions responded that it was misleading of Field to draw wider conclusions “from the anecdotal evidence of just eight people”. It said: “The reasons people use food banks are complex.”
However, Chris Mould, the chair of the Trussell trust food bank network, said the charity’s local managers were reporting UC payment delays as a big cause of hardship for claimants: “For someone with no income the lengthy 42-day wait will leave them struggling to afford to eat and, for those without friends, family or other support networks to help, it can leave them desperate.
“We wholeheartedly support the recommendation that this waiting time be reduced.”