This week, my colleagues and I have ramped up the pressure on the UK government to introduce grants instead of advance loans and scrap the five-week wait under Universal Credit after organisations reiterated support for the proposal.

At yesterdays, Work and Pensions Committee session, there was overwhelming support from witnesses – including from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Citizens Advice Bureau – for the UK government to make Universal Credit advance payments non-repayable grants instead of loans to prevent people from falling into, or further into, debt.

The UK government has said it fears that introducing advance payment grants for Universal Credit could see an increase in fraudulent claims. Alongside colleagues in Parliament, I have proposed a solution to this, whereby advance payments become non-repayable grants once the claimant has been deemed eligible for Universal Credit. This would take away the need to reverse the five-week wait, which the DWP has said would be “operationally challenging.”
I have repeatedly argued that the advance payment could be determined on a “slide and scale” basis – dependent on need – but all would receive an upfront payment to see them through until the first Universal Credit payment.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said that a short-term solution for people would be to pay some form of non-repayable grant upfront after finding that 70% of surveyed claimants who apply for an advance payment said they face difficulties as a result of that loan, with impacts occurring long after that first payment. Changing Lives, the Trussell Trust, Leonard Cheshire, StepChange, the Citizens Advice Bureau and the Child Poverty Action Group also made clear that they supported the introduction of grants instead of loans as advance payments.

At committee I was pleased to see the charities and organisations in attendance overwhelmingly in support for the UK government to implement the proposal to make advance payments non-repayable grants instead of loans.

Boris Johnson must listen to us and introduce the proposal without delay to prevent hundreds of thousands from being plunged into, or further into, debt – particularly during the current crisis.

Last month we heard that 700,000 advance payments had been issued – that’s hundreds of thousands more people now in debt to the DWP. This cannot continue.

Whilst the majority of social security powers remain at Westminster, the SNP will continue to propose solutions and work with the UK government to help them rebuild the social security net they have spent years dismantling. As the health pandemic continues, people need it now more than ever.