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End five week wait for Universal Credit, urges Citizens Advice Scotland

Foodbank - image credit: PA

End five week wait for Universal Credit, urges Citizens Advice Scotland

Citizens Advice Scotland has urged the UK Government to scrap the five week waiting period for Universal Credit, after a new report found the system was leading to huge spikes in foodbank demand.

The report, from foodbank operator the Trussell Trust, found foodbanks experienced a 30 per cent increase in demand in areas where Universal Credit had been in place for a year.

In areas where the new system has been in place for at least 18 months demand for emergency support jumped by 40 per cent, with a 48 per cent increase in demand for food banks in areas with Universal Credit for at least two years.

The system has faced fierce criticism from anti-poverty campaigners, with every claimant moving onto Universal Credit forced to wait at least five weeks before receiving their first payment.

Releasing the report, the Trussell Trust warned the five week wait pushes people into debt, homelessness and destitution, while CAS backed calls from the foodbank operator for the UK Government to “loosen the grip of poverty and make sure Universal Credit is able to protect people from needing a food bank, instead of pushing them to one”.

CAS Social Justice spokesperson Mhoraig Green said: “This report chimes with the evidence we see across the Citizens Advice network in Scotland about the impact that the five week wait has on people’s lives.

“The waiting period pushes people into debt or causes their existing debt to spiral, and it leaves people with no money to heat their home or buy food, and exacerbates their ill health.

“The recent spending round for the government was a missed opportunity to fix this problem.

“With so many organisations now publishing the same evidence, surely it is time for the government to recognise that what we are showing is the real picture. The five week wait must go.”

Amber Rudd, who was replaced as work and pensions secretary by Thérèse Coffey at the start of September, had previously expressed concern over the five week wait, saying it was “really hard” for people struggling to get by.

Trussell Trust chief executive Emma Revie said: “Universal Credit should be there to anchor any of us against the tides of poverty. But the five week wait fatally undermines this principle, pushing people into debt, homelessness and destitution.

“In a society that believes in justice and compassion, this isn’t right. But it is something that can be fixed. Universal Credit was designed to have a wait. Now it’s clear that wait is five weeks too long, and we must change that design.

“The recent Spending Review was a lost opportunity to protect people on the lowest incomes.  Our Prime Minister must take action to end this wait, and help prevent thousands more of us being swept away by poverty. With the nation at a crossroads, now is the time to loosen the grip of poverty and make sure Universal Credit is able to protect people from needing a food bank, instead of pushing them to one.”

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