A new report by the Scottish Affairs Committee has backed calls to scrap the debt-inducing five-week wait for Universal Credit and make the £20 a week uplift permanent and extend it to legacy benefits.
After the Work and Pensions Committee, it is the second Committee to ultimately support calls to turn advance payments into non-repayable grants once the claimant has been deemed eligible for Universal Credit.
The Westminster Committee, made up of MPs from all the main political parties, has also urged the Tory government to review their plans to cut the £20 Universal Credit uplift in September 2020, which would plunge 700,000 people into poverty, of which 300,000 are children. The report recommends the uplift is made permanent and extended to legacy benefits.
The report follows new Trussell Trust research showing that almost all (90%) households who needed to use a food bank on the eve of the pandemic were in some form of debt.
A third of people using foodbanks were in arrears on three or more bills mid-2020, and the number of people at food banks owing money to the Department for Work and Pensions sharply increased from 26% in late 2018 to 38% in early 2020, and 47% in mid-2020.
Step Change, the Trussell Trust and the Joseph Rowntree have all linked the five-week wait to rising debt and have echoed the SNP’s calls to scrap the five week wait and make permanent and extend the uplift.
Commenting, the SNP’s Work and Pensions spokesperson, David Linden MP said: “I am pleased that another Committee has backed our proposal on how to scrap the five week wait.
“The UK government cannot keep ignoring the growing tide of calls on this, nor can it keep ignoring the growing financial hardship and debt for families after a decade of Tory austerity, Brexit and the pandemic.
“Turning the advance payments into non-repayable grants instead of keeping them as loans once people have been determined as eligible for Universal Credit would help millions now and in the future – it would prevent additional stress and anxiety of further debt, and enable people to start getting themselves out of financial difficulties.
“All of the figures we have seen relating to the impact of the five-week wait make for dire reading, and we must not forget that behind these statistics are families hit by the pandemic and in desperate need of support.
“I am also urging the UK government to put much needed money in people’s pockets, which will not only pull people back from the brink but stimulate our recovery and economy, by making the uplift permanent and extending it to legacy benefits and raising the work allowance in Universal Credit.
“And it is beyond time the Tories scrapped the punitive sanctions regime. The Committee recommends a pause to benefit sanctions but it must go further and get rid of them completely given there is no evidence to suggest this encourages people into work – only evidence showing that it pushes people into further difficulties.
“Scotland is vulnerable under Westminster control – the full powers of independence are vital to us securing a strong, fair and equal recovery for all who live here.”