Department for Work and Pensions

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:57 pm on 26th February 2019.

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Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Labour, East Ham 5:57 pm, 26th February 2019

I want to raise one topic, which has already been touched on by my hon. Friend Ruth George in her excellent speech opening the debate: namely, the current five-week delay between claimants applying for universal credit and being entitled to their first payment. Like Christine Jardine, I welcome the change of tone from the Secretary of State and her frank acknowledgment of the fact, long denied by her predecessors, that the roll-out of universal credit has increased demand at food banks.

The theory of the five-week delay was explained to us by Mr Duncan Smith during the coalition period. He explained that people leaving a job will have their last monthly pay cheque in the bank, which will keep them going for a month. In addition to the normal waiting days, which have always been part of the benefits system, that results in a delay of five or six weeks.

There are some obvious problems with that justification. For example, what about those who are paid weekly? Huw Merriman told us that 75% of people are paid monthly—that may well be right; I think it is about right—but what about the 25% who are not? 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? The Government’s justification for the five-week gap clearly does not apply to them.

I have repeatedly pressed Ministers on this subject. They are not capable of providing a justification for the five-week delay for people who are not paid monthly. I do not blame them, because there is no justification. I confidently predict that we are not going to hear a justification that works for them when the Minister winds up this debate. What about people on zero-hours contracts? They cannot be confident of having had a monthly pay check when they left their last job either. Even more starkly, the five-week gap will also apply to the millions of people about to be transferred from legacy benefits to universal credit.