Nearly a million people claimed Universal Credit (UC) between 16 and 31 March. Many more will have failed to get through to make a claim.
One Jobcentre worker told Socialist Worker, “Getting through on the phone is impossible.
“Once you’ve made a claim it should be three days before you have an appointment—now it’s potentially weeks.”
Charlotte Hughes is a campaigner against UC in Ashton-Under-Lyne in Greater Manchester.
“Some people have told me they’ve been on the phone for hours trying to claim and they can’t get through,” she told Socialist Worker. “They’ve given up.”
She added that experiencing the harsh reality of the system has been an “eye-opener” for many.
“A lot of people have contacted me saying they didn’t realise how little they would have to live on,” she said.
“So many people have gone from having an income to having virtually nothing.”
The basic rate of UC, just £94 a week, is worth just a sixth of average weekly pay, according to the TUC union federation. It also said unemployment benefit was worth a quarter of average earnings in 1984.
“People are going to go without food,” said Charlotte. “People will lose their homes. The government says you can get an advance like it’s some utopia, but you have to pay it back.
“It’s alright staying at home if you’ve got money—it’s a nice adventure. If you’re poor, every day is a struggle.”
The surge in claimants has forced Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) bosses to drop some bureaucratic rules that stop people getting the money they need.
These include the “claimant commitment” that forces claimants to prove they’re looking for work—so sanctions have effectively been scrapped, at least temporarily.
Stringent identity checks have also been dropped.
“They’ve waived all these rules that we’ve been arguing against for ages,” one PCS union rep told Socialist Worker. “It’s just taken a disaster to get them to do it.”
With a massive backlog building, activists are calling for more rules to go—including the five-week wait for first payment.
The Jobcentre worker said this forces people to borrow from the DWP to pay rent and feed their children, getting them into debt. “We should just approve claims as they come in,” they added.
“There’d be some fraudulent claims but who cares? People who need the money would be getting it.”
During the 2008 financial crisis, claims for jobseeker’s allowance went up by 78 percent in a year. Now claims for UC have risen by 500 percent in a week.
The figure shows up Tory measures to protect jobs as utterly inadequate. And as the coronavirus crisis continues, millions will suffer as a result.
“People are stuck on their own and it’s scary. But there’s no point appealing to the Tories’ better side because they don’t have one,” said Charlotte.
“They just don’t care.”