Boris Johnson was berated over the failure to bail out self-employed workers today as the benefits system struggles to cope with the coronavirus fallout.
The PM insisted government is working ‘as fast as possible’ despite warnings that millions have lost their incomes due to the ‘social distancing’ lockdown.
There are signs that Chancellor Rishi Sunak might finally unveil the support package tomorrow, with speculation 80 per cent of normal income for the self-employed could be covered by the state. However, there are complaints that is already too late for people who cannot pay essential bills.
A bailout for businesses and an extraordinary vow to underwrite 80 per cent of salaries for employees who faced being laid off, up to £2,500 a month, were announced last week.
Mr Johnson came under fire at PMQs after it was revealed that almost half a million benefit claims have been received over the past nine days.
Boris Johnson insisted government is working ‘as fast as possible’ despite warnings that millions have lost their incomes due to the ‘social distancing’ lockdown
Labour MP Hilary Benn said whatever the Chancellor comes forward with ‘will take time to implement’, and asked what would be done to support those with ‘no job, no income and no savings, in circumstances where they don’t have any money at all to buy food’
Around 477,000 claims have been ‘processed’ since last Tuesday, with 105,000 being made for Universal Credit yesterday.
The unprecedented pressure and volume of new claims – revealed in evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee – has led to reports of delays and people being unable to get through to advisers on the phone.
The department’s website, Understanding Universal Credit received approximately 200,000 hits last week, as many in the ‘gig’ economy and freelancers realised their income would be slashed by the desperate efforts to curb coronavirus.
DWP Permanent Secretary Peter Schofield said there had been ‘capacity challenges, unsurprisingly’ with verifying the sudden influx of claims made.
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said extra money has been directed to an online verification programme, while staff will also be making outbound calls to verify people’s claims.
They did not say how many of the 477,000 who applied last week have made it through the verification stage.
Around a quarter – 70,000 out of around 270,000 Universal Credit applications last week – applied for an advance payment, the committee was told.
They could not say whether these people received their advance payments within a week.
Ms Coffey told the Commons Work and Pensions Committee: ‘I want to reassure people that help, even if it is not currently the level of help that they would like, is there to help them through the safety net of the welfare state.’
It emerged that nearly 500,000 benefit claims have been made over the past nine days as Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey gave evidence to MPs today
Jeremy Corbyn told the PM in the Commons that he had promised workers they would get the support they need
Facing the wrath of many MPs in the Commons this afternoon, Mr Johnson said: ‘There are particular complexities about the self-employed which do need to be addressed.
‘They are not all in the same position and all I can say is that we are working as fast as we possibly can to get the appropriate package of support for everybody in this country.’
But SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said: ‘As we stand here, people are losing their incomes. Telling them to wait another day simply isn’t good enough.’
Jeremy Corbyn told the PM that he had promised workers they would get the support they need.
‘Unless we increase statutory sick pay and give protection and access to benefits for those on zero hours contracts, then, the dangers we’re all aware of, of people going into work or trying to work when they shouldn’t is going to continue,’ he said.
‘We do need very urgent action on this.’ Mr Johnson said the Government had provided ‘a serious response to the crisis’.
Paying tribute to DWP workers, he added: ‘We’ve increased Universal Credit by £1,000 a year – that will benefit 4million people of the poorest families in the country.’
Labour MP Hilary Benn said whatever the Chancellor comes forward with ‘will take time to implement’, and asked what would be done to support those with ‘no job, no income and no savings, in circumstances where they don’t have any money at all to buy food’.
Mr Johnson replied: ‘We have already increased Universal Credit. ‘What we are doing immediately to help get cash to the poorest and neediest is to give an immediate grant of £500million to local councils and there will be more to come.’