The £20 increase in Universal Credit due to end in April

East Ham MP Stephen Timms

Stephen Timms was elected chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee in the House of Commons a year ago - Credit: Archant

A year ago, I was elected chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee in the House of Commons. It took a few weeks to appoint the rest of the committee. We started meeting in March.

The committee is cross-party: six Conservative members (the majority), four Labour and one SNP. We meet every Wednesday at 9.30am. As at the start of the pandemic, meetings are virtual. You can watch live, or on catch-up, on the website:

In September, we published a report on “Universal Credit: the wait for a first payment.” It focused on the five week wait between applying for Universal Credit and receiving the first benefit payment. It presented evidence that this long delay was increasing foodbank demand and causing hardship and rent arrears.

The committee recommended, unanimously, new “starter payments”, to help tide people over the initial wait. At the moment, all you can get before the five week point is what DWP calls an “Advance”. That has to be repaid by deductions from later benefit payments. The report recommended that these Advances should be called “new claim loans”, to make clear they had to be repaid. We also recommended that the £20 a week increase in Universal Credit from the start of the pandemic should be permanent. At the moment, it is due to end in April.

Last week, the government responded to our report. Unfortunately, it rejected all our recommendations.

The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, chaired by former Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Forsyth, produced a report on Universal Credit shortly before ours. Their conclusions were similar: “Universal Credit isn’t working” as Lord Forsyth put it.

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The next step is for our two committees to meet, to see if we can make more progress jointly than we have separately.

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