Universal Credit changes?

Almost a million people have claimed Universal Credit in the last two weeks

The Times

Coronavirus: A million universal credit claims in past two weeks

A million people have made claims for universal credit in the past two weeks as families struggle to cope before getting Covid-19 payouts in two months' time.

The scale of the applications is more than nine times what the Department for Work and Pensions would normally expect - many from self-employed people whose work has dried up.

The Resolution Foundation, an economic think tank, expects millions more to apply as unemployment rates rise and savings run out.

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What needs to change with Universal Credit in response to coronavirus?

By Joe Harker

In a two week period the average amount of people claiming Universal Credit, the UK's attempts to roll their various benefits into one system, is 100,000.

In the last two weeks around 950,000 people have claimed the benefit, with thousands spending days on the phone attempting to apply for money after the coronavirus pandemic changed their situation.

People are losing jobs, going unpaid and having their wages cut as the UK has gone into lockdown to contain the spread of the virus. While the chancellor has announced support packages he cannot provide the same levels of pay and job security as a life without the pandemic.

It's at times like this where lives and livelihoods are under threat, if people can't get benefits they are entitled to they will be stuck with little in the way of support.

The Claim:

The Department for Work and Pensions has been urged to make it easier for people to claim Universal Credit and extending eligibility for the benefit.

There are calls to scrap the "capital rules tests" which mean a person must have less than £16,000 in savings to qualify for Universal Credit, those with savings of more than £6,000 also receive less.

Should people who lose their income be asked to burn through their savings for an indeterminate amount of time until they drop below the threshold where they can start claiming benefits? Provided they wait the requisite five weeks like everyone else who claims Universal Credit of course.

One of the concerns with Universal Credit is that it was designed to make work pay, meaning it is unsuited to keeping people afloat financially while they cannot work.

Many people have spent much of the past couple of weeks stuck on the phone trying to apply for Universal Credit.

The BBC's Laura Kuenssberg noted that the number of Universal Credit applications over the last two weeks was a sign of how many people were in "economic need" after a short period of disruption to work.

The Counter Claim:

The DWP have said Universal Credit is "delivering in these unprecedented times".

A spokesperson said: "With a huge increase in claims there are pressures on our services, but the system is standing up well and our staff are working flat out."

The government has put more money into Universal Credit to boost the amount people will receive in benefits and has diverted staff to deal with the sheer amount of applications.

There could also be more help packages from the chancellor as ministers seek to address all the areas their original policies missed. Rishi Sunak has earmarked billions in support but parts of the country have been left behind.

The Facts:

Around 10,000 DWP staff have been reassigned to deal with Universal Credit claimants.

During the 2008 financial crisis the number of people applying for jobseekers allowance rose from 46,000 in February 2008 to 82,000 a year later, a 78 per cent increase over 12 months.

For comparison, Universal Credit claims have increased by over 500 per cent in a week. People who have lost their jobs, those who are losing part of their wages and the self-employed who are having to wait until June for financial support from the government are among those applying for money.

There is a five week waiting period but people can have access to some money within days. The government has said they won't drop the waiting period and directed people towards getting an advance on their payment.

You are eligible for Universal Credit if you are over 18, have less than £16,000 in savings and are either out of work or have a low household income. You can calculate where you would be eligible for benefits here.

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