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Universal Credit is to replace a range of benefits and tax credits for working age families. “Pathfinders” began in certain parts of North West England in April 2013, and by late 2017 – when the benefit should be fully introduced – it is expected that around 8 million families will be receiving UC.

In Spending Round 2013 on 26 June, the Chancellor announced that new UC claimants subject to work-related conditionality who have not had a UC claim in the previous six months will have to wait seven days before becoming eligible for support. The measure is expected to be introduced from April 2015, and ultimately yield savings of around £260 million a year.

“Waiting days” are nothing new – a waiting period following a new claim has applied ever since contributory unemployment benefits were introduced in the UK. The usual justification is that the social security system should not be expected to provide cover for people moving between jobs or experiencing brief spells of unemployment. In 1998 the Labour Government proposed to extend the waiting period for JSA claimants from three days to seven days – taking forward plans first announced by the previous Conservative Government – but the measure was dropped in the face of opposition, including from the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

The Government argues that a seven day waiting period for UC reinforces its “work first” approach by sending the message that from the outset of the claim “rights to benefits are conditional on the requirement to search for work.” Welfare rights organisations and pressure groups have however voiced concerns, pointing out that Universal Credit brings together support currently delivered by a number of benefits and that the potential loss to individuals and to families could be substantial. There is concern about the impact on those with little or no savings, who may be forced to rely on payday loans, doorstep lenders, or food banks.

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