Labour has called on the government to implement five urgent changes to the social security system that will “provide immediate support to people” during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a call that follows the launch of an inquiry into the response of the Department for Work and Pensions to coronavirus, Jonathan Reynolds has argued that the UK must “strengthen the safety net”.
The Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary said that the opposition welcomed the support that the government has introduced so far, but declared that it had not gone far enough.
Labour’s five suggested measures are:
- Convert Universal Credit advances into grants instead of loans, ending the five-week wait;
- Remove the £16,000 savings limit which disqualifies individuals from accessing Universal Credit;
- Suspend the benefit cap;
- Abolish the two-child limit in Universal Credit and tax credits; and
- Uprate legacy benefits to match the increase in Universal Credit, providing an immediate increase in Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment Support Allowance.
On the need for these urgent changes to the benefits system, Reynolds said: “The Covid-19 crisis is causing serious financial suffering for people and their families.
“At this stage, with no clear end to the lockdown, we must urgently find ways to strengthen the safety net so our society can emerge from the crisis with the least damage possible.
“While we welcome the government’s emergency measures so far, we do not believe they go far enough. By taking these additional steps immediately, we can prevent families and individuals from sliding further into hardship from which it will be extremely difficult to recover.”
The work and pensions select committee launched an inquiry into the DWP’s response following reports of unprecedented demand. Figures showed that 2.2 million calls were made to the DWP on just one day at the end of March.
Universal Credit has come under particular scrutiny since the outbreak of the virus in the UK, with more than 1.4 million people registering for the benefit since mid-March.
It has been heavily criticised as there is a five-week waiting period before applicants receive their first payment. During this time, people can apply for financial support – but this is only provided in the form of a loan.
Since the start of the coronavirus crisis, more than 500,000 of the new applicants for Universal Credit have had to apply for a loan, with repayments due to be taken out of their future benefit payments.
Labour MP and chair of the select committee Stephen Timms has joined many in calling for its abolition and said last week that the five-week wait for Universal Credit is a “fatal flaw”.