BRITS on benefits such as Jobseekers’ or Employment Support Allowance should get an extra £1,000 a year during the coronavirus crisis, a watchdog said today.
Millions of people on Universal Credit were given an extra boost to their incomes during the pandemic, but people on the old benefits system haven’t got the same extra cash.
Two million people have applied for benefits since the coronavirus crisis began, but millions are still on the old benefits system.
Today the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) said it should be matched as soon as possible, as it was creating an “untenable” difference between different sets of people.
The committee called for claimants to be given the same increase as those on Universal Credit, backdated to April 6.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the increase in Universal Credit and the Working Tax Credit on March 20 “to strengthen the safety net” for four million households at the height of the pandemic.
But in a letter to Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey, the SSAC’s interim chairwoman Liz Sayce today called for action to help those who are not on the new six-in-one benefits system.
The SSAC was told that the legacy benefits were excluded because they could not be changed quickly or safely and would have required overcoming “serious IT challenges”.
Universal Credit Director Neil Couling said last week it could take up to five months to make the changes for legacy benefits.
Ms Sayce said in her letter: “While we understand the reasons for not including ESA and JSA in the original announcement, we are of the strong view that it is increasingly untenable for this group of claimants to be excluded and to continue to have a lower level of income than those in receipt of Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit.
“We recommend that the Government finds a way to ensure that this group of claimants, that includes some of the least well-off, are brought up to the same level as those in receipt of Universal Credit as soon as it is possible to do so.”
To make things equal, the Government should consider backdating the increase, she added.
The watchdog chief also raised concerns about the impact of encouraging self-employed people to claim UC if their earnings fell – only to find that they then lost tax credits.
And the committee said the benefits cap meant that some people were not getting the “full value” of the additional support promised by the Government.
She also advised that shared accommodation rate caps for under 35s be paused for the duration of the crisis – as they were most likely to be affected by drops in income, but were unlikely to be able to move house.
Ministers have said people can claim the benefits system if they get into trouble, and there is a full package of support to help people who lose their jobs.