New research published today (Thursday) by the TUC reveals the future impact of a controversial new welfare reform – the five-week wait – on workers in Wales, with over 15,000 newly unemployed people set to be hit each month.
Currently most workers who lose their job have to wait two weeks before they get their first benefit payment. But under new Universal Credit rules for assessing unemployment claims, most people will face a wait of more than five weeks before they get any money. This could mean going two months into rent arrears before any cash support arrives.
Across the UK, almost 300,000 people will be hit each month by the five-week wait. Despite this, recent polling by YouGov for the TUC has revealed that fewer than one in seven people (13 per cent) say they have heard of the plans. Seven out of ten people (70 per cent) say that they would be worried when asked to imagine losing their job and not being entitled to receive any benefit payments for five weeks. More than half (52 per cent) say it makes them think less favourably of the UK government’s welfare reforms.
The TUC’s new research reveals the monthly average of newly unemployed people broken down by region and nation, local authority (county and unitary) and constituency. This indicates how many people can be expected to be hit by the five-week wait when Universal Credit replaces workers’ current safety net benefits.
The largest concentration of those affected in Wales is found in Cardiff, where over 1,900 people each month are expected to be hit by the five-week wait. Elsewhere nearly 1,200 people are set to lose out in Swansea while close to 1,500 face the same delay in Rhondda Cynon Taf (see notes to editors for other local authorities and parliamentary constituencies). The DWP’s own analysis suggests that the measure may increase claimants’ reliance on short-term loans.
The TUC has launched a new campaign, Saving Our Safety Net, to highlight the five-week wait and other welfare reforms that cut safety net protection for working people.
Wales TUC National Officer Julie Cook said: “Help should be there as soon as somebody needs it, but people will be left relying on food banks and Wonga loans to see their family through the five-week wait. The UK government has sneaked this through without telling Britain’s workers their safety net is being cut.
“It’s right to deal with people who abuse the system, but the five week wait is a collective punishment for anyone who loses their job. People need to be able to focus on finding new work, instead of being stressed-out about how they will pay the rent, feed the kids and keep the heating on.
“Job security has got worse since the recession. UK government ministers are out of touch and fail to understand the anxiety many people feel not knowing if they’ll still have work next month. If your job goes, the five-week wait puts you at greater risk of a downward spiral where you’re trapped in debt, lose your home, become ill from the stress and fall too far to climb back again. The 15,000 people set to be hit each month in Wales deserve better.
“That’s why we are launching the Saving Our Safety Net campaign which will expose UK government welfare plans for what they are – cuts to the National Insurance safety net we’ve all paid into on the understanding that it will be there when we need it.”