Cameron’s former ‘anti-poverty tsar’ protested that the hold-ups had put needy people at risk of having to turn to food banks to feed their families
Under Government guidelines, new claims for Jobseekers’ Allowance should be processed with 10 working days. But parliamentary answers disclosed that 205,457 claimants waited more than 10 days in 2014-15 for a decision on their case. Nearly half of them (95,561 people) waited more than 16 days.
Meanwhile, more than two-thirds of claimants who asked for emergency payments to help bridge the gap between making a claim and receiving their first payment were turned down by Jobcentre Plus. Almost 150,000 of the 221,824 applications made for a Short Term Benefit Advance were rejected, according to separate parliamentary answers.
The figures emerged days after the Budget in which George Osborne signalled cuts of £12bn to welfare spending over the next four years, provoking accusations that the worst-off were bearing the brunt of the Chancellor’s austerity measures.
They were obtained by Mr Field, former Labour minister the chairman of the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee, who was commissioned by the Prime Minister in the last parliament to report on “poverty and life chances”.
Mr Field told The Independent: “These are gut-wrenching delays. These are benefits for people who are usually on their uppers.” He acknowledged that the Department for Work and Pensions [DWP] had made improvements in the numbers of claims it processes within 10 days.
But he added: “To go even one day, let alone two weeks, with no money, is impossibly difficult, particularly if the person making the claim has just lost their job and has little or nothing in the bank.
“For the department still to leave hundreds of thousands of people in the lurch and vulnerable to hunger for weeks on end is appalling.
“If the department could deliver all new claims more swiftly and implement a fairer sanctions regime, it would overnight halve the numbers of people needing to rely on food banks.”
An all-party parliamentary inquiry last year found that around one-third of people who went to food banks used them because of delays in receiving their benefits or tax credits.
Nearly a million people were helped by food banks in 2013-14 (Getty)
The Trussell Trust, which runs 420 food banks, said it handed out food to 1,084,604 people, including 396,997 children, last year. It said 44 per cent of recipients had asked for help because of changes or delays to benefits.
A DWP spokeswoman said: “The truth is that our performance in processing benefits on time has improved every year since 2010. We continue to ensure a strong safety net is in place, providing more than £80bn a year to support those of working age.”
She said the most common reasons for benefit advances being rejected was because the benefit had been paid or the claimant had not provided evidence of eligibility.
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