I'VE spoken out on various aspects of the UK Government’s welfare reform agenda in the past, but I’m really worried about plans that will see newly unemployed workers face a minimum five-week wait before they receive any financial help.
In some ways, the principle seems reasonable. Indeed, it’s argued that Universal Credit – the new system that’s eventually supposed to consolidate a whole range of different benefits into one, single payment – should more closely mirror the monthly salary cycle that has long been the norm in many workplaces.
But for someone who has lost their job and is struggling to pay the bills, keep a roof over their heads, and provide for their families - a wait of five weeks or more is simply too long.
Research released by the Wales TUC earlier this month to launch their ‘Save our Safety Net’ campaign indicates that on average, over 15,000 people in Wales will be affected by the change every month.
This includes more than 500 of my constituents in Torfaen, many of whom will have worked hard all their lives and contributed many thousands of pounds into the system through National Insurance and have every right to expect support when they really need it.
Interestingly, the TUC have also released polling which suggests that there is very little public awareness of the change. Less than one in seven people have even heard of the plans, and more than half of those polled said the change made them think less favourably of the coalition’s wider approach to welfare reform.
One obvious potential consequence is that we’ll see more and more people turning to food banks, which we know already face unprecedented demand. According to statistics from the Trussell Trust, benefit delays are already the leading cause of referrals - cited by more than 30 per cent of food bank users.
There’s also a very real danger we’ll see more and more people turning to high-interest ‘payday’ type loans to bridge the gap, or even the parasitic illegal loan-sharks who make a living through preying on the desperate and the vulnerable.
Obviously tax and benefits are not devolved to the Assembly, but as well as urging the UK Government to rethink this policy, I intend to lobby the Welsh Government to throw its considerable weight behind the ‘Save our Safety Net’ campaign.
To find out more and to sign the online petition, visit www.savingoursafetynet.org.