Covid-19: DWP Update

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:39 pm on 4th May 2020.

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Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 3:39 pm, 4th May 2020

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement. I wish to put on record my thanks to the DWP staff, who are continuing to work hard to deliver social security benefits as quickly as possible in very difficult circumstances, but the circumstances have been made more difficult by the decisions of the UK Government, who have introduced bureaucratic support schemes instead of a far simpler universal basic payment with a longer view towards universal basic income. Millions have been forced on to still inadequate universal credit, and despite DWP staff being moved to cope with the UC demand, over 200,000 people had their UC claim paid late, according to the UK Government’s best estimate. Because DWP staff have been moved to help process UC claims, MPs and other advice organisations are not getting casework inquiries answered in the normal way, which is also causing unfair hardship.

On the last day that I contributed in this House—18 March—before lockdown, I said that people needed help in hours, not days, yet the people applying for universal credit in that week will have only just received their first payment a few days ago. The British Government must finally stop the five-week wait. They claimed that they cannot solve it by making the advance payment system a grant rather than a loan because of vulnerability to fraud, so why not make the advance a grant when the applicant is confirmed as eligible for universal credit? I would appreciate proper consideration of that proposal. Airdrie food bank in my constituency has reported a 47% increase in demand for its services since the onset of covid-19. That should focus minds.

The Prime Minister said that nobody would get left behind, so why has there not been an uplift in legacy benefits, such as employment and support allowance, as there has been to universal credit? Finally, will the Government scrap the immoral, poverty-inducing two-child limit, the bedroom tax and the benefit cap, and will they uprate all benefits to make up for the years of cuts that came through the benefit freeze? 1.7% just does not come close.