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27 April, 2020 Open access

Select Committee hears that people are facing ‘serious difficulties’ in claiming benefits during the coronavirus outbreak

Having received survey responses from more than 6,000 people, Committee Chair says that 'we hope that Ministers will look carefully at what people have told us, and make changes'

The Work and Pensions Committee has heard that people are facing 'serious difficulties' in claiming benefits during the coronavirus outbreak.

Following a call for evidence on people's experiences of the benefits system over recent weeks, the Work and Pensions Committee has published a summary of the key themes that emerged in the responses it received from more than 6,000 people.

However, while some people said that they were grateful for how quickly the DWP has adapted its operations in response to the COVID-19 situation, with appreciation expressed for jobcentre staff and comments that included 'they were very helpful and calm on the phone' and 'the process went very smoothly and I cannot fault the staff at the centre', the Commitee also heard that -

NB - while acknowledging that it would not be appropriate to use the data to make assumptions or generalisations about the experiences of people claiming benefits across the country, as the people and organisations who responded were self-selecting and no questions were asked about their identity, the Committee says that it will use its learning from the survey to help decide the questions it should be asking the government.

Commenting on the responses, Chair of the Committee Stephen Timms said - 

'Hearing from people with first-hand experience of the benefits system is a crucial part of our scrutiny of the DWP. It’s clear from what we’ve heard that DWP staff are working very hard and have made great strides in adapting to the unprecedented strain on the benefits system.

But we’ve also heard from people who are still facing serious difficulties. Disabled people have been particularly hard hit: their living costs have gone up, but their benefits have stayed the same. And there’s an urgent need for more clarity for people who are self-employed. We hope that Ministers will look carefully at what people have told us, and make changes.

It would be easier to understand how the system is working in practice if DWP were to publish more information. We’ve asked for quite basic facts—such as how long people are waiting on the phone—but had no answers. Our survey has attempted to fill in some of the gaps, but there is no substitute for the official data. The Department must now follow the very clear instruction of the UK Statistics Authority and make this data available to the public.'

For more information see Committee publishes results of survey on experiences of benefit system from parliament.uk