The government should cut the “cruel” six-week delay for Universal Credit claimants to just a month, an influential cross-party committee of MPs has urged.
The wait for initial payments has forced some claimants to use loan sharks as food banks have reported a massive surge in demand.
The Commons Work and Pensions Committee said in a report published on Thursday that claims Universal Credit mirrors the world of work are undermined by “fundamental flaws”.
The report’s release coincides with mounting pressure for the government to adjust the waiting period and mitigate the effect of cuts to welfare implemented in 2015.
One woman told HuffPost UK last week that she was driven to attempting suicide after waiting more than five weeks for her first Universal Credit payment.
Labour’s Frank Field, who chairs the committee, described the so-called “baked in” wait as “cruel”. “No one can give us any real justification for it,” he said.
Field added: “Such a long wait bears no relation to anyone’s working life and the terrible hardship it has been proven to cause actually makes it more difficult for people to find work.
“It is not too late for the Government to avert a Christmas disaster. They must act now.
“This urgent recommendation, of cutting that six-week wait, is the first step from the Committee in what I hope will be a series of reports on the Government’s ailing flagship welfare policy.”
While Tory MP Heidi Allen said: “Despite the clear support for Universal Credit, there is cross-party recognition that the 6 week wait does not honour the original intentions of the system.
“To truly represent the world of work, the payment cycle must mirror how the majority of people are paid i.e. monthly. Universal Credit will only be the success it deserves to be if it works with claimants to find work, and not against them.”
The flagship programme has been plagued by problems, including the perilous six week stall in payments and rip-off fees to call its helpline.
And HuffPost revealed Universal Credit’s “hidden” raid on the self-employed that could cost around 800,000 strivers as much as £1,500 a month in lost benefits.
Last week, the Commons backed Labour’s advisory motion calling for the controversial welfare changes to be put on hold by 299 votes to nil.
Conservative MPs abstained from the vote, although Tory MP Sarah Wollaston sided with Labour.
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “The government remains determined to ensure that people joining Universal Credit don’t face hardship which is why we recently announced significant improvements to the system of advance payments that people can get as soon as they get into the system.
“We also know that over time people adjust to managing monthly payments, and reduce their arrears. The majority of people are comfortable managing their money but budgeting advice, upfront benefit advances and direct rent payments to landlords can be provided for those who need it.”