Outside the jobcentre on a Friday afternoon we are very aware that any problems will not be resolved till at least next week. It is only the foodbanks that can save people from a hungry weekend. The two people we referred to the foodbank this week had both found themselves penniless after being caught out by the new payment schedule under Universal Credit. Instead of the fortnightly payments of the old system, UC is paid monthly. Without a hint of irony, the DWP claims that this is meant to help people prepare for monthly wages, though the amount paid is only a fraction of what you would get in work. They were warned from when this was first proposed that it would cause problems, and of course it has.
In Scotland you can ask for the payment to be staggered so that you get your money twice monthly instead. This is almost like the previous fortnightly payments, but not quite; and that was Richard’s undoing. He had been under the impression that he would get his benefit payment two weeks after the last one and had budgeted accordingly. When he asked why he hadn’t been paid he was told the money wasn’t due until Tuesday.
Lisa was getting monthly payments and was unable to budget that way – especially with money being taken off for debt repayment. She knew she couldn’t cope and was trying to arrange twice monthly payments instead, but meanwhile she had spent her meagre allowance and there was still two weeks before her next payment was due.
This is a system that sets people up to fail. With benefits pared to the bone, it demands a level of financial planning that few if any of its authors could even conceive of. Foodbanks are under huge pressure, but what is remarkable is that this is not even greater.