Universal Credit, a system campaigners have long criticised for its lack of transparency in decision-making, unjustifiably long wait times and cruel sanctioning structure, has come under further strain in recent weeks as over 100,000 new claimants have emerged as a result of the novel coronavirus.
Many of those on zero-hour contracts, who have little recourse to legal protections in the workplace and are without a salary to claim the 80% wage payout guaranteed by the government, have found themselves entirely without an income for an indefinite period of time. Self-employed individuals including small business owners have been similarly disadvantaged, with their only options going forward being to carry on trading and risk themselves and their families lives or to cease and claim Universal Credit. In doing so they may be subjected to a shocking five weeks waiting period before they receive these emergency funds.
As it is likely that further restrictions on the types of businesses that may operate will be imposed, Church Homeless Trust is concerned as to how this already ill-equipped system will cope with the additional strain of five million self-employed people attempting to make new claims for benefits. There are already countless stories emerging of traders, often with families to feed, being unable to even contact the service for advice as there is too much traffic on the lines. The website has already gone down on multiple occasions.
As a charity, we are deeply concerned by these developments. Many of those we help have previously been at the mercy of the Universal Credit system, often having been sanctioned for as little as missing an appointment due to ill health. It is especially concerning to us as food banks begin to run out of supplies, and charitable donations begin to drop, making this situation even more precarious than it would ordinarily be.
It is clear to us at Church Homeless Trust that the Universal Credit system has long been in dire need of reform, and this may just happen as Chancellor Rishi Sunak comes under increasing pressure in the wake of an ever increasing unemployment figure.