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22 June, 2020 Open access

Social security system has at times been ‘too inflexible and slow to adapt’ to COVID-19, say MPs

Select Committee highlights that, while focus has been on the unprecedented numbers of new universal credit claims, other issues have slipped down the list of priorities

Social security system has at times been 'too inflexible and slow to adapt' to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Work and Pensions Select Committee has said.

In a new report that investigates the DWP's response to the pandemic, the Committee praises the work of frontline staff dealing with an unprecedented number of new claims, but highlights that huge numbers of people have been left struggling to cover the costs of essentials, with some disabled people in particular hit hard by increased costs of care and rising food prices. 

Accordingly, the Committee makes a number of recommendations - both to tackle the immediate impacts of the crisis and to plan for a radically changed labour and jobs market - including that the Department should - 

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

'DWP’s frontline staff have worked hard to get support to millions of people. Without their actions, the impact of the pandemic could have been much worse. But the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted weaknesses in a social security system which at times is too inflexible and slow to adapt to support people in times of crisis.

The focus has mostly been on the unprecedented numbers of new claims for universal credit. But in the background, people on legacy benefits - including disabled people, carers and people with young families—have slipped down the list of priorities. It’s now time for the Government to redress that balance and increase legacy benefits too. It’s simply not right for people to miss out on support just because they happen, through no fault of their own, to be claiming the ‘wrong’ kind of benefit.

At the same time, people whose immigration status leaves them with no recourse to public funds have been left with no support from the benefits system at all - and at risk of destitution and homelessness. Some have had to face the invidious choice between staying at home and facing financial ruin, for themselves and their children, or going to work and risking spreading the disease. The Government must suspend these rules for the duration of the pandemic.

The labour market will be transformed by coronavirus. Young people, disabled people and people on low pay are among those likely to be worst hit. Large scale employment programmes take months to set up: DWP needs to get on top of this now.'

For more information see Raise the rates of legacy benefits to support people hit hard by coronavirus pandemic, not just Universal Credit, say MPs from parliament.uk